The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled the Warren County Board of Supervisor’s attempt to get around the state open meetings law was not legal.
The three county supervisors used a complex plan to talk about reorganizing county government by going through the county administrator to avoid holding an open meeting on the issue. Several employees who were laid off in the reorganization filed suit.
The district court found a majority of the supervisors never met to talk about the issue, so they did not hold an open meeting. The Iowa Supreme Court says the district court did not properly interpret the definition of a meeting.
On a 4-3 vote, the high court says the definition of meeting extends to all in-person gatherings at which there is deliberation on the policy-making duties of the supervisors, including in-person gatherings attended by a majority of the members by virtue of an agent or a proxy. The Supreme Court ordered the case returned to the district court to determine if the actions were an open meeting violation.
Justice Thomas Waterman wrote a dissent, saying the ruling replaces a clear, easy-to-follow rule with a vague standard that will invite costly litigation and deter diligent public officials from conferring with administrators to prepare for public meetings.
Here’s the full ruling: Open Meeting Decision PDF