In response to residents “Denigrate” the Kossuth County Supervisory Board, the board has opted out of recording its public meetings.
The action was taken on March 16 following a county resident who filed a formal complaint against the council for allegedly violating Iowa’s open meetings law by meeting in secret.
County supervisor Kyle Stecker said on Friday he opposed the decision to stop recording board meetings, but he understands why the other four supervisors backed him up. “We’ve had a couple of citizens who will take what’s being said on these tapes completely out of context and basically denigrate anyone and everyone on the council,” Stecker said. “The (tapes) are misused, so that was the main reason.”
County board member Roger Tjarks said the reason the council voted 4-1 to stop recording meetings was because his digital recorder was down.
“The recorder didn’t work, that was the main reason, and we’ve never replaced it yet – and if we do replace it, well, I don’t know if we will or not. It works well, we don’t record meetings, ” Tjarks said. “That was the main reason. This is the only reason I can think of. I didn’t think this was a big deal because there is nothing in the law that says you have to record meetings.
Kossuth County’s annual budget is approximately $ 22 million. Digital recorders typically cost between $ 40 and $ 150.
When asked, Tjarks conceded that some people in town accused the council of not recording certain meetings because the members just didn’t want to, and some people, he said, were quoting selectively. feedback from board members by listening to the recordings. To address this issue, he said, the council voted to adopt a policy of no longer recording its public meetings.
“They quoted everything wrongly,” Tjarks said. “They take pieces of (what we say) and use it.”
Kossuth County District Attorney Todd Holmes said on Friday that until this week he was unaware of the council’s actions.
March 16 board meetings indicate decision to tape meetings has been made “Due to the many technical issues we encountered, it is not used for the minutes (as there is always a hard copy), and there is no code requirement.”
The county actions represent the second time in recent weeks that an Iowa public body has responded to a complaint filed with the Iowa Public Information Board by restricting, rather than expanding, access to meetings and information. The city of Otho, after being accused of violating the Iowa Open Archives Act, eliminated the public forum from its council meetings and stopped posting meeting notices on the Iowa website. city.
Kossuth County’s decision to stop recording meetings came shortly after a county resident filed a complaint against the county council with the Iowa Public Information Board. Tracy Carlson had attended a February county council meeting that adjourned at 10:51 a.m. with a county supervisor stating: “I guess we’re done meeting until 4:30 pm We can meet up here at 4:00 pm,” which would have been in preparation for a budget workshop session. Council members took all of their personal belongings and then left the council chamber.
The council returned about 15 minutes later and met behind closed doors to discuss the budget, Carlson told the Iowa Public Information Council at its meeting Thursday.
“I think the question everyone should be asking themselves is, ‘How could someone at the regular meeting come back in 15 minutes for the in camera budget workshop? The answer is very simple: there was no way they could have known. “ Carlson said at the IPIB meeting.
Carlson acknowledged that the county’s position is that council gave proper notice of the workshop because the official agenda only indicated that the budget workshop session would follow the regular meeting.
“They definitely, by their own words and by the sequence of events during the meeting, changed the agenda,” Carlson told the IPIB. “They shouldn’t be able to fall back on an agenda that has not been followed, whether it has been written correctly or not.”
As to the council’s decision to stop recording its meetings, Carlson said the movement, “While not illegal, does not instill trust in the people who elected them.” The county council also stopped noting the time of the adjournment in its meeting minutes, she said – an allegation that appears to be supported by the minutes posted on the county’s website.
Additionally, she said, supervisors met behind closed doors to discuss her complaint with the IPIB, relying on Iowa law that allows public bodies to discuss in private. “Litigation imminent.” Carlson said there was no indication to the county council that a dispute would result from his complaint.
“You would think the board would work hard to correct anything that might not appear open and transparent to the public, instead of eliminating good practices of adjourning and recording meetings for constituents.” who cannot attend ”. Carson told the IPIB.
Carlson urged the IPIB board to accept her complaint and order the county to work with her on a resolution of the issue rather than dismiss the complaint as having been resolved. “Please vote according to your conscience, as voters in Kossuth County are counting on you to protect their right to attend public meetings,” she said.
Holmes told the IPIB board that as a county attorney he takes “The laws of the sun very seriously.” He said that while the county council never intended to mislead the public, he now acknowledges that his comments on the meeting are resumed at 4:30 p.m. “Could be misleading. Therefore, they are going to be – from now on – more vigilant in refraining from making those statements which could possibly mislead the public.
Holmes said supervisors are planning to watch a PowerPoint presentation on the importance of complying with the law. They will also post a notice on the meeting room door, alerting the public that even if the doors are closed, the meeting is open to the public.
IPIB legal adviser Zach Goodrich told council what happened at the county council meeting in February was “unfortunate,” but there was no violation of Chapter 21 of the Iowa Code, better known as the Iowa Open Meetings Act.
“In my mind, there is no egregious violation of Chapter 21, but what happened is clearly not what should happen,” Goodrich said. “The things they had to do were done. Yes, misleading statements have been made, but I still cannot find, looking through chapter 21, which part of that chapter was violated. “
Julie Pottorff, a member of the Iowa Public Information Council, said that while the County Council’s conduct “Is certainly very troublesome”, she agreed that there was no violation of the law unless the announcement from supervisors that she would not meet until 4:30 p.m., rather than 11 a.m., was “Intended to mislead people.”
The IPIB Board of Directors voted to adopt the staff recommendation dismissing Carlson’s complaint as legally insufficient. Members Pottorff, EJ Giovannetti, Barry Lindahl, Keith Luchtel, Monica McHugh and Suzan Stewart voted in favor of the dismissal. Board members Joan Corbin, Rick Morain and Stan Thompson opposed approval of the termination order.
Shortly before the vote, Carlson told members of the IPIB board that she did not see how the county council’s statements to the public were ambiguous or open to interpretation.
“I cannot understand how these statements could be interpreted in any other way,” she said. “Not meeting before 4:30 pm means exactly that. “See you at 4 pm” is another statement that cannot be misinterpreted. It does not mean going behind closed doors between 11 and 12 years old. “