Councils are encouraged to meet very soon to discuss their emergency plans for staff to transition to working remotely, adjust office hours, if offices are open or closed to the public, and completing business critical issues such as payroll.
First and foremost, council meetings are open meetings and will remain so despite this emergency situation. The Iowa Public Information Board recently published guidance regarding electronic meetings. Electronic meetings have been an option for quite some time under Iowa law, but most counties hold regular in person meetings. Electronic meetings are a frequent subject of Public Information Board complaints. Best practices are outlined here: https://www.ipib.iowa.gov/news/open-meetings-electronic-meetings-governmental-body
Work with your regional director to stay in compliance and consider your options.
For your reference in regards to public notice and electronic meetings:
Iowa Code Chapter 21.4 Sections 1 and 2
- Except as provided in subsection 3, a governmental body shall give notice of the time, date, and place of each meeting including a reconvened meeting of a governmental body, and the tentative agenda of the meeting, in a manner reasonably calculated to apprise the public of the information. Reasonable notice shall include advising the news media who have filed a request for notice with the government body and posting the notice on a bulletin board or other prominent place which is easily accessible to the public and clearly designated for that purpose at the principle office of the body holding the meeting, or if no such office exists, at the building in which the meeting is to be held.
- a. Notice conforming with all of the requirements of subsection 1 of this section shall be given at least twenty-four hours prior to the commencement of any meeting of a government body unless for good cause such notice is impossible or impractical, in which case as much notice as is reasonably possible shall be given. Each meeting shall be at a place reasonably accessible to the public, and at a time reasonably convenient to the public, unless for good cause such a place or time is impossible or impractical. Special access to the meeting may be granted to persons with disabilities.
b. When it is necessary to hold a meeting on less than twenty-four hours’ notice, or at a place that is not reasonably accessible to the public, or at a time that is not reasonably convenient for the public, the nature of the good cause justifying that departure from the normal requirements shall be stated in the minutes.
Iowa Code Chapter 21.8 Sections 1, 2 and 3
- A governmental body may conduct a meeting by electronic means only in circumstances where such a meeting in person is impossible or impractical and only if the governmental body complies with all of the following:
- The governmental body provides public access to the conversation of the meeting to the extent reasonably possible.
- The governmental body complies with section 21.4. For the purpose of this paragraph, the place of the meeting is the place from which the communication originates or where public access is provided to the conversation.
- Minutes are kept of the meeting. The minutes shall include a statement explaining why a meeting in person was impossible or impractical.
- A meeting conducted in compliance with this section shall not be considered in violation of this chapter.
- A meeting by electronic means may be conducted without complying with paragraph “a” of subsection 1 if conducted in accordance with all of the requirements for a closed session contained in section 21.5.
To review the entire Iowa Code, please see https://www.legis.iowa.gov/law/statutory
Because of the emergency proclamations, councils could argue that 24-hour public posting is impractical, however, it would still be important to post the tentative agenda publicly. Additionally, electronic meetings would consist of teleconference or webinar options, and as outlined in the code, the public should been given reasonable access to the meeting, such as the phone number or URL to participate. Council members are able to vote via webinar or phone but are not able to vote via text or email. Minutes of the meeting are still required for permanent records. Your regional director can help you with these rules.