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July 1, 2002

Closed Governmental Meetings: Know the Nuts and Bolts for Closed Sessions

Closed sessions are serious business: the public is asked to leave so that a council, board, commission or other governmental body can hold discussions behind closed doors. Iowa's Open Meetings Law, Iowa Code Ch. 21, spells out very specific rules. Here are steps government bodies must take for a meeting to be closed:

  • Check the statute. Open meetings only can be closed for 12 specific reasons set out in the law, such as discussion of pending litigation or certain personnel issues. If none of the law's reasons apply, the session may not be closed.
  • Announce the reason. The governmental body must publicly announce the reason for closing the meeting and record the reason in the minutes.
  • Take a vote. Closing requires an affirmative vote of two-thirds of the members, or all members present. For example, a five-member body needs either 4 votes to close (two-thirds of all the members) or 3 votes (if only three are present and three is a quorum.)
  • Keep records. The governmental body must keep detailed minutes and must tape-record the closed session. Detailed minutes must record who is present, all discussion, and any action taken. The minutes and tape are sealed and only can be opened under a court order.
  • Stay focused. A closed session is authorized only to the extent necessary for the reason cited. There must not be discussion of other matters.
  • Return to open session for final action. Final action only can be taken in open session. For any final decision, a motion and vote must be done in open session.

Be vigilant about "what goes on behind closed doors."

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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