Welcome to the Department of Justice, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller

Sunshine Advisory

A Bulletin on Iowa Open Meetings and Public Records Laws

By Attorney General Tom Miller -- September 2006

Closed Sessions for Governmental Bodies
Motions to close a meeting, and any final action, must be open.

Iowa's Open Meetings Law allows governmental bodies to hold discussions in closed session, but only for purposes narrowly defined by the law. See Iowa Code sec. 21.5(2)(a)-(k). How does the Open Meetings law balance public accountability with a need for confidentiality?

What about the motion to go into closed session? And what about any final action that is taken? Should a motion and final action occur in open session? In short, there are three steps for handling closed sessions: Start with a motion in open session, close only for directly-related discussion, and conclude with any final action in open session.

Governmental bodies in Iowa should follow these three steps to move from open session into closed session, and to return to open session for any final action:

  • Motion to Close: A governmental body may close a session only by vote of either 2/3 of all members, or all members present. The session may close only for one of 11 statutory reasons. Iowa Code sec. 21.5 (1)(a)-(k). The vote must be recorded in open session minutes, must show the vote of each member present, and must reference a specific statutory exemption for a closed session. Iowa Code sec. 21.(2).

  • Directly-Related Discussion: A governmental body "shall not discuss any business during a closed session that does not directly relate to the specific reason announced" for the closed session. Iowa Code sec. 21.5(2).

  • Final Action: Final action, if any, must be taken in open session, unless some other statute permits final action to be taken in closed session. Iowa Code sec. 21.5(3).

Remember, there are three steps for closed sessions: Start with a motion in open session. Close only for directly-related discussion. Conclude with final action (if any) in open session.

Citizens who have inquiries or complaints about public records or open meetings may call the Iowa Citizens' Aide/Ombudsman Office -- toll-free at 888-IA-OMBUD (888-426-6283.)

"Sunshine Advisory" bulletins provide information on Iowa's public records and open meetings laws -- our "Sunshine Laws." The bulletins are a resource for public officials and citizens. Local officials should obtain legal advice from their counsel, such as the city or county attorney.

Iowa Attorney General's Office:  Hoover Building, Des Moines, Iowa 50319.

On the Web: www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.org.