Individual officials can be penalized for violating Iowa's sunshine laws, costs can be costly to a governmental body.
Compliance with Iowa's Open Meetings Law and Public Records Law is serious business. The Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB) can assess damages, void action taken in violation of the open meetings law, and require a government body or official to take any appropriate remedial action. The board does not have the authority to unilaterally remove a person from office, but it may file an action to remove someone under Chapters 21 or 22, which include “two strikes and you’re out” provisions that direct the court to order the removal of an official upon his or her second violation during a term.
A court can assess monetary damages against officials who violate the laws. Citizens who go to court and successfully enforce violations of the laws will recover costs and attorney fees. Who pays the damages assessed and the costs and attorney fees awarded when violations are established in court? Where does the money go?
The statutes allocate monetary costs for violating either the Open Meetings Law or the Public Records Law according to the following principles:
- Monetary damages against individuals. Each member of a governmental body who is found to have participated in a violation (and has no defense) will be assessed a penalty of $100 to $500 or between $1,000 and
$2,500 if the violation was knowing. This money is paid to state government if the violation is by state officials, and to local government if the violation is by local officials.
- Attorney fees awarded to citizens. Citizens who bring successful enforcement actions in court will be awarded the costs of the litigation and reasonable attorney fees for the trial and any appeal. Litigation costs and attorney fees are paid by any officials who are assessed damages; if no one is assessed damages, costs and attorney fees are paid from the budget of the governmental body.
Remember: compliance is serious business. Iowa's sunshine laws can impose significant penalties for violations.
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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