The Iowa Court of Appeals has ruled with the Johnson County Supervisors in an Iowa City area open meetings case. A group of Johnson County residents sued after the members of the county board of supervisors had discussions in January of 2005 with consultants who had prepared a preliminary report on a controversial development project.
The way those discussions were held prompted the suit. Two supervisors met with the consultants then they left, then two more came in and talked with the consultants, then left, then the final boardmember met with the consultants. The consultant made changes and released a final report after meeting with the supervisors.
The county residents sued saying the discussions with the consultants fell under Iowa’s open meetings law and should have been publicized. The district court judge ruled it was not a violation because it was not a "meeting" since there was not a majority present and there was no "deliberation."
The appeals court says the supervisors were seeking explanations to better understand the report’s recommendations, but there is no evidence showing debate or discussion of the recommendations among members. The justices say the record is conflicting as to whether the small group gatherings were arranged to avoid the purpose of the open meetings law requirements or carefully structured to avoid a violation of the law.
The justices said they believe that the board’s decision to review the draft in this fashion was a poor one. But they say substantial evidence does support the court’s finding that no deliberation occurred at the gathering and they must uphold the decision of the district court.