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September 1, 2006

Closed Sessions for Governmental Bodies, Motions to close a meeting, and any final action, must be open.

Iowa's Open Meetings Law allows governmental bodies to hold discussions in closed session, but only for purposes narrowly defined by the law. See Iowa Code sec. 21.5(2)(a)-(l). How does the Open Meetings law balance public accountability with a need for confidentiality?

What about the motion to go into closed session? And what about any final action that is taken? Should a motion and final action occur in open session? In short, there are three steps for handling closed sessions: Start with a motion in open session, close only for directly-related discussion, and conclude with any final action in open session.

Governmental bodies in Iowa should follow these three steps to move from open session into closed session, and to return to open session for any final action:

  • Motion to Close: A governmental body may close a session only by vote of either 2/3 of all members, or all members present. The session may close only for one of 12 statutory reasons. Iowa Code sec. 21.5 (1)(a)-(l). The vote must be recorded in open session minutes, must show the vote of each member present, and must reference a specific statutory exemption for a closed session. Iowa Code sec. 21.(2).
  • Directly-Related Discussion: A governmental body "shall not discuss any business during a closed session that does not directly relate to the specific reason announced" for the closed session. Iowa Code sec. 21.5(2).
  • Final Action: Final action, if any, must be taken in open session, unless some other statute permits final action to be taken in closed session. Iowa Code sec. 21.5(3).

Remember, there are three steps for closed sessions: Start with a motion in open session. Close only for directly-related discussion. Conclude with final action (if any) in open session.

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.

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