So how do you stop backroom deals?
Open meetings ensure that governmental decisions are subject to public scrutiny at the time they are made, preventing "backroom deals." You can use Iowa's Open Meetings law to make sure that officials are not improperly excluding public review.
Before you attempt to enforce Iowa's open meetings law, be sure you understand what it requires. Here are some key points:
- In general only public bodies that make government decisions or recommendations are required to comply.
- Whenever possible, 24 hours advance notice of a public meeting is required.
- A "public meeting" is any gathering in person or electronically by a majority of members of the body for the purpose of discussing policy or actions.
- "Round robin" or "serial" meetings (in which members of the body meet in small groups to avoid the open meetings law) are prohibited.
- Whenever practical, a public meeting should be held where members of the public can physically attend. If not, other means to allow public monitoring must be used.
- Members of the public are allowed to record a public meeting.
- Minutes of a public meeting must be kept showing who voted for what.
- Closed sessions are allowed to discuss such things as pending litigation or personnel decisions. (See Iowa Code Section 21.5)
- Closed sessions must be recorded for future reference and possible disclosure pursuant to a court order.
- Sanctions for violating the Open Meetings law include an court orders, personal fines, payment of citizens attorney's fees and expenses, disclosure of the records of an improperly closed session, voiding of the actions taken at the illegal meeting, and even removal of any members of the public body who have previously violated the Open Meetings law.
The law can be enforced under Iowa's Administrative Procedures Act
, but more commonly an action for enforcement or relief is filed in the Iowa District Court of the county in which the public body is located. For that reason, it is best to employ an attorney when seeking to enforce the provisions of Iowa's Open Meetings Law.