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 -- November 2005

Handling Government Personnel Matters

Can governmental bodies close a session to discuss hiring, performance evaluations, or discipline?

Governmental bodies and their employees, like their private sector counterparts, often wish to consider hiring decisions, performance evaluations, and disciplinary matters in confidence. But does Iowa's Open Meetings Law allow a closed session to discuss personnel matters confidentially when the employer is a governmental body?

How does the law balance the desire for confidentiality with the need for public accountability? Confidentiality is possible -- but only if certain conditions are met.

A closed session may be held to evaluate the professional competency of an individual only under the following terms and conditions contained in Iowa Code sec. 21.5(1)(i):

  • Limited Purpose: The closed session must be limited to appointment, hiring, performance or discharge of an individual. Not every personnel matter will fit within these topics.
  • Needless and Irreparable Injury: The closed session must be necessary to prevent needless and irreparable injury to the reputation of the individual whose appointment, hiring, performance or discharge is under consideration.
  • Request for Closed Session: The closed session must be requested by the individual whose appointment, hiring, performance or discharge is at issue. No request, no closed session!

In summary, although governmental bodies facing serious personnel decisions may wish to discuss the matters confidentially, public accountability requires strict compliance with the Open Meetings Law. The reasons for closing a session are limited, the necessity for closing the session must turn on preventing needless and irreparable injury to an individual's reputation, and the individual at issue must request a closed 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.