by Gary Taylor
City of Postville, et al v. Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission
Iowa Court of Appeals, June 10, 2015
This case came back to the Court of Appeals on remand from the Iowa Supreme Court. In its 2013 decision the Supreme Court determined that there was a genuine issue of material fact on the issue of whether placing notices of Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission (Commission) meetings on a bulletin board in the building’s interior hallway outside the meeting room complied with Iowa’s Open Meetings Act.
Iowa Code 21.4 provides in part:
…[A] governmental body shall give notice of the time, date, and place of each meeting including a reconvened meeting of the governmental body, and the tentative agenda of the meeting, in a manner reasonably calculated to apprise the public of that information. Reasonable notice shall include advising the news media who have filed a request for notice with the governmental body and posting the notice on a bulletin board or other prominent place which is easily accessible to the public and clearly designated for that purpose at the principal office of the body holding the meeting, or if no such office exists, at the building in which the meeting is to be held.
The facts relevant to the issue raised were recited by the Court of Appeals:
“The bulletin board is approximately thirty to forty feet from the main public access door. The board is not visible from the entrance door to the office. The office is open to the public Monday through Friday from 8:00am to 4:30pm…. The testimony indicated the bulletin board was visible from the reception area, but the board’s contents were not. The Commission’s secretary testified that you could not specifically see what was on the bulletin board from the reception area. The meeting notices have been posted on the same bulletin board in the same hallway outside the room where the Commission has met for at least twenty years. While the general public did not regularly frequent the hallway, or the Commission’s building itself, the public was not prohibited from entering or viewing the contents of the bulletin board. The receptionist, who had worked at the Commission for thirty-two years, testified she never turned a member of the public away from the door. However, she could not recall any member of the public ever coming to the office to ask when and where the Commission met.”
Approximately ten years before the lawsuit was filed, the Commission installed a new bulletin board located in the reception area of the building immediately inside the front door, but the meeting notices continued to be posted on the original bulletin board down the hall outside the meeting room. The Court of Appeals observed, however, that “there is no indication that posting the notice on the new bulletin board would have resulted in more members of the public being apprised of the meetings since the only people to frequent the building were those who had business with the Commission or had an appointment.” The Court concluded that “the statute does not require the notice of the meeting be viewable twenty-four hours a day, or that it be in the most visible place available. All that is required is that the Commission substantially comply with the requirement that the notice be posted ‘in a manner reasonable calculated to apprise the public of the information.'” Substantial evidence was present to support the district court’s conclusion that the Commission had met this standard.