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March 1, 2004

Emergency Meetings: Can Good Cause Justify Less Notice?

What if a government body has to conduct an emergency meeting and doesn't have time for the normal 24-hour advance public notice?

Government bodies usually must give notice and provide a tentative agenda 24 hours in advance of a meeting (Iowa Open Meetings Law, IA.Code Ch. 21.) The notice requirement goes right to the heart of open government. Why? The public has a right to know when a government body will meet, and what's on the agenda, in order to decide whether to attend and observe an open session. So, what happens in an emergency where action must be taken quickly? How does the law balance the public's need for notice and the government's need to act quickly?

These basic principles apply to emergency meetings:

  • The general rule: 24-hour notice is required. Government bodies must give the time, date, place and tentative agenda of each meeting. Notice must be posted on a bulletin board or other prominent place accessible to the public at the principal office of the government body (or at the building where the meeting will be held, if there is no principal office.)
  • The exception: Less notice may be given only if, for good cause, 24-hour notice is impossible or impractical. Whether an emergency makes 24-hour notice impossible or impractical depends upon the facts. Officials should ask whether action can reasonably be deferred to a later time that allows for 24-hour notice. Is faster action really necessary?
  • The bottom line: Give as much notice as reasonably possible. If 24-hour notice is impossible or impractical, give notice as soon as possible. The facts will determine what's reasonably possible -- but a government body should never meet without any notice at all.

Remember: The Iowa Open Meetings Law requires adequate notice to keep the public informed. In the rare circumstance when a government body must act quickly, officials should give as much notice as is reasonably possible.

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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502 East 9th Street
Des Moines, IA 50319


Phone: 515-725-1781

Updated December 1, 2014

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