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February 1, 2002

When is a Gathering an Open Meeting?

"But, we were just having breakfast . . ."

How does Iowa law define an "open meeting?" Are breakfast gatherings of a quorum of a governmental body at a local café "meetings" subject to Iowa's Open Meetings Law?

Most Iowans who serve on city councils, school boards, state licensing boards, or other governmental bodies know that meetings require prior public notice so citizens can see what's on the agenda and attend if they wish. This is a basic "sunshine" open-government principle of Iowa law. But, in order to comply with the law, every one needs to know what constitutes a "meeting."

Iowa's Open Meetings Law says a governmental body "meets" when there is:

  • any gathering in person or by telephone conference call or other electronic means, whether formally noticed or informally occurring,
  • of a majority of the members,
  • at which there is any deliberation or action upon any matter within the scope of the governmental body's policy-making duties. (Iowa Code, Chapter 21.2)

A governmental body "meeting" does not include a purely ministerial or social gathering at which there is no discussion of policy or intent to avoid the Open Meetings Law, even if a quorum is present. For example:

  • A quorum of a school board gathering for breakfast at the local café, would be a meeting IF members discuss or take action on school business.
  • A quorum of a school board gathering for breakfast at the local café would not be a meeting IF members only chat about the Hawks, Cyclones or Panthers, or other matters that are not within the scope of the board's business.

Remember the basic rule: a quorum of a governmental body may gather informally, IF the conversation is social and discussion of business is saved for scheduled meetings.

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


Phone: 515-725-1781

Updated December 1, 2014

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