The Iowa Supreme Court is expected this morning to release a decision that could severely weaken Iowa’s open meetings law. The justices must decide if sending messages through an employee, the Warren County Board of Supervisors were still holding a "meeting," as defined under Iowa code.
In March 2014, the Warren County Board of Supervisors laid off 12 county employees.
The three-member board did not come to this decision in person or through email. Rather, they reached a unanimous agreement by relaying messages to each other through the county administrator.
By using a proxy, the board avoided deliberating a controversial decision in public.
Iowa code requires governing bodies to meet in public, so how is this legal?
The state's open meeting's statute defines a meeting as when the majority of members of a governmental body gather and deliberate, either “in person or by electronic means.”
The Warren County Board of Supervisors is arguing that the term “in person or electronic means” creates a bright-line rule, which they say they did not violate because they communicated through the county administrator.
What's at stake?
If the court rules that the Warren County Board of Supervisors acted legally, then it will be a lot easier for government officials in Iowa to make decisions without public input. The board of supervisors will have essentially created a blueprint for boards, councils and commissions in Iowa to circumvent open meetings requirements.
Couldn't you argue that a meeting did take place?
That's the argument of the former county employees. They say that even though the board members weren't in the same room, emailing, or texting while they were planning the layoffs, there was a coming together of ideas which constitutes a meeting.
They also point out that Iowa's open meeting's statute says the law applies to both formal and informal meetings, and that any ambiguity "should be revolved in favor of openness."