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July 1, 2005

When Can Committees Gather in Private? Decision-Making Authority is a Key!

Governmental bodies often form committees as a means to carry out their statutory duties. Committees may carry some tasks to completion -- or they may take recommendations back to the full body. If the Open Meetings Law applies, committees cannot gather to deliberate or act in private, unless there are grounds to close a session. (See the Sunshine Advisory -- "Are Advisory Bodies Subject to Iowa's Open Meetings Law?")

How can you tell if the Open Meetings Law applies to committees?

Some committees may gather to deliberate or act without providing notice or a tentative agenda and without allowing public access, but only under limited circumstances.

  • Committees that make recommendations, but otherwise lack decision-making authority, are not subject to the Open Meetings Law (with narrow exceptions as explained below.)
  • Certain advisory committees are subject to the Open Meetings Law because they are specifically included by statute, even though they lack decision-making authority. See Iowa Code sec. 21.2(1)(e)(advisory bodies created by the governor or by the general assembly are subject to the Open Meetings Law), and Iowa Code sec. 21.2(1)(h)(advisory bodies created by statute or by executive order are subject to the Open Meetings Law).
  • Any committee that consists of a quorum of the full governmental body also triggers application of the Open Meetings Law, because a quorum of the governmental body has decision-making authority to act for the full body.

Public officials should tread carefully when creating committees authorized to gather outside the public eye. Committees can serve a useful purpose, but governmental bodies should carefully consider whether a committee must comply with the Open Meetings Law

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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