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Sunshine Advisory Bulletin

A Bulletin on Iowa Open Meetings and Public Records Laws
By Attorney General Tom Miller -- April 2003

Recording What Goes on Behind Closed Doors

It is very serious business when a governmental body goes into closed session and asks the public to leave. The body must vote to close the meeting and only can do so for certain reasons. (See July 2002 "Sunshine Advisory.") But closed meetings must be documented. How are they documented -- and when can the public have access to the information?

Public officials must document closed sessions and make a complete record:

  • Government bodies must keep detailed minutes of all discussion, persons present, and actions occurring at a closed session, and must tape-record the entire closed session.
  • The minutes and tape must be sealed and maintained for at least one year.

Minutes and tape of a closed session are not open for public inspection. However, the law provides situations in which minutes and tape recordings can be accessed:

  • Members of the government body who were present at the closed session (or who were absent but lawfully could have been present) are entitled to access the tape and minutes.
  • A court may permit inspection of minutes and tape by a party bringing an enforcement action for violation of the Open Meetings Law (IA Code Ch. 21.) The court must weigh the prejudicial effects to the public interest against the probative value of evidence in the action.

Remember, discussions in closed session are recorded for a purpose: Minutes and tapes may reveal later if the session was closed improperly, or if officials strayed into discussion of matters that should have been considered in open session. This could happen if a court ordered all or part of the closed session minutes and tape be disclosed to a party bringing an enforcement action. The law is designed to protect the public interest and assure that nothing improper goes on behind closed doors.


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

"Sunshine Advisory" bulletins are designed to give information 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

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

On the Web: www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.org. Sunshine Advisories are a general resource for government officials and citizens.