Iowa Attorney General

April 1, 2003

Recording What Goes on Behind Closed Doors

It is very serious business when a governmental body goes into closed session and asks the public to leave. The body must vote to close the meeting and only can do so for certain reasons. But closed meetings must be documented. How are they documented -- and when can the public have access to the information?

Public officials must document closed sessions and make a complete record:

  • Government bodies must keep detailed minutes of all discussion, persons present, and actions occurring at a closed session, and must tape-record the entire closed session.
  • The minutes and tape must be sealed and maintained for at least one year.

Minutes and tape of a closed session are not open for public inspection. However, the law provides situations in which minutes and tape recordings can be accessed:

  • Members of the government body who were present at the closed session (or who were absent but lawfully could have been present) are entitled to access the tape and minutes.
  • A court may permit inspection of minutes and tape by a party bringing an enforcement action for violation of the Open Meetings Law (IA Code Ch. 21.) The court must weigh the prejudicial effects to the public interest against the probative value of evidence in the action.

Remember, discussions in closed session are recorded for a purpose: Minutes and tapes may reveal later if the session was closed improperly, or if officials strayed into discussion of matters that should have been considered in open session. This could happen if a court ordered all or part of the closed session minutes and tape be disclosed to a party bringing an enforcement action. The law is designed to protect the public interest and assure that nothing improper 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

Website: www.ipib.iowa.gov
Email: IPIB@iowa.gov

Phone: 515-725-1781

Updated December 1, 2014

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