'Sunshine Laws' vital to public

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Iowa's "Sunshine Laws" - the Open Meetings Law, and the Public Records Law (Iowa Code Chapters 21 and 22) - assure public access to open meetings and open records at all levels of government.

The following valuable information has been gleaned from past violations of our Sunshine Laws:

*The public is entitled to use cameras and recording devices at open meetings.

*People can request copies of public records by contacting a governmental body by letter, telephone, or electronic means, including fax or e-mail.

*A government body is never allowed to use secret ballots when voting in open session.

*Public officials may deny access to an entire record only if the entire record is confidential under law. If only some information is confidential under law, public officials should "redact" or black out confidential information and provide access to the rest of the record.

*Unless an emergency requires immediate action, only matters included on the tentative agenda may be discussed at a meeting.

*Governmental bodies may not charge a fee simply to examine a record; fees for retrieving, copying, and supervising records should be based only on actual costs.

*Open meetings may close only for one of 12 specific reasons provided by statute.

*Electronic data stored in a computer is public record, and the lawful custodian must provide access to open records stored in electronic format.

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

If you've been denied these rights, call the Ombudsman. It's vital for all concerned that our governmental bodies let the sun shine!