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March 1, 2002

Advance Agendas for Public Meetings

Agendas are the public's invitation to watch government at work.

Agendas for public meetings play a vital role in the ability of citizens to watch the decision- making process that affects public affairs at every level of government in Iowa. Clear and effective agendas are a matter of good policy, because they keep citizens informed and help public officials be better prepared for meetings. Good agendas also are a matter of law -- Iowa's Open Meetings Law.

Here are some basic principles for advance agendas for public meetings:

  • Tentative agendas must be posted in a prominent place at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting, except in case of a bona fide emergency. (Iowa Code section 21.4.) For example, tentative agendas may be posted at an accessible bulletin board designated for that purpose at the office and provided to news media who have filed a request for notice.
  • Agendas must provide notice sufficient to inform the public of the specific actions to be taken and matters to be discussed at the meeting. (An agenda that merely states "Approve minutes, old business, new business" does not provide reasonable notice to the public.) Notice also must include the time, date and place of meetings.
  • The precise detail needed to communicate effectively will depend on the situation, including whether the public is familiar with an issue. The less the public knows about an issue, the more detail is needed in the tentative agenda.

For example, an agenda listing "mid-semester review of administrative performance" probably is sufficient to inform the public that personnel issues will be discussed, but it would not be sufficient to alert the public about a general discussion of administrative issues.

Officials and citizens alike should remember: Meeting agendas are the public's invitation to watch government in action. So, agendas should take care to describe the specific actions to be taken and matters to be discussed in public meetings.

Sunshine advisories are a general resource for government officials and citizens on Iowa's public records and open meetings laws – our "sunshine” laws.  Local officials should obtain legal advice from their counsel, such as the city or county attorney.

The Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB) is an independent board that the Iowa Legislature established specifically to address open meetings and open records-related matters.  The IPIB provides information to the public and governmental entities on "sunshine" issues.

The IPIB, which has jurisdiction and authority to investigate and enforce Iowa's open meetings and open records laws, enables citizens to file a complaint if they believe that someone is violating these laws.

Citizens who have inquiries or complaints about public records or open meetings should contact the Iowa Public Information Board. Iowa Public Information Board.

Wallace Building, Third Floor
502 East 9th Street
Des Moines, IA 50319


Phone: 515-725-1781

Updated December 1, 2014

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