The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

AP story section

June 8, 2013

Court shields volunteers from fines

IOWA CITY — Volunteers who serve on governmental bodies cannot be held personally liable for unintentional violations of the Iowa Open Meetings Act, at least for now, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday.

In an important open meetings case, the court ruled that volunteers cannot be ordered to pay damages for holding closed meetings unless they commit “intentional misconduct or a knowing violation” of the act, which promotes transparency in government. However, the court signaled that it would be open to considering a future legal argument about the issue that wasn’t properly raised in the case.

The ruling declined the city of Postville’s request to sanction members of a regional planning commission in northeastern Iowa who admitted to violating the open meetings law by holding a secret vote to purchase property in 2010.

The open meetings law says violators can face fines of up to $500 for each violation. But Justice David Wiggins said that law was rebuffed by another that broadly protects citizens who volunteer to serve on government bodies from legal liability, “except for acts or omissions which involve intentional misconduct or knowing violation of the law” or actions in which they receive improper benefits.

The case involves the Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission, which has 24 members and serves five counties in far northeastern Iowa. The commission voted in 2010 in a secret ballot to purchase property to move some of its programs to Decorah, which had all previously been located in Postville.

After one member questioned whether the secret ballot was illegal, the commission contacted the state ombudsman for advice and decided to send out new written ballots asking members to reaffirm their votes by mail. Although some changed their minds, the commission still voted to buy the property.

The city of Postville and the editor of the local newspaper filed a lawsuit alleging that open meetings violations had occurred. The commission admitted to two violations involving the secret ballot and the mail-in ballot, and the lawsuit sought $500 fines against each individual member for each.

Text Only
AP story section
  • State to reopen Juvenile Home DES MOINES -- A district court judge on Wednesday ordered the state to reopen the Iowa Juvenile Home, telling Gov. Terry Branstad he cannot unilaterally change a law approved by the state Legislature. Judge Scott Rosenberg said the home in Toledo was

    February 6, 2014

  • Panel OKs ban on remote abortion pill distribution DES MOINES -- A legislative panel approved a measure Wednesday that would ban the remote distribution of abortion pills, a proposal the bill's sponsor said is intended to delay the procedure and give women more time to change their minds. The subcomm

    February 6, 2014

  • Sioux City gambling group halts local grants SIOUX CITY -- The nonprofit that holds the gambling license for the Argosy Sioux City riverboat casino has voted to temporarily stop sending grants to local charities and government agencies. A legal dispute with the operator of the casino, Penn Nati

    January 15, 2014

  • Davenport pays, apologizes to hearing impaired man DAVENPORT (AP) -- The city of Davenport has issued an unusual apology to a former alderman after a police employee was caught on tape saying that he intentionally knocked softly on the hearing-impaired man's door when responding to a service call. Th

    January 15, 2014

  • Budget Branstad presents budget for next fiscal year DES MOINES -- Gov. Terry Branstad offered a budget proposal Tuesday that includes a tax break for veterans, a tuition freeze for college students and incentives to encourage Internet expansion in rural Iowa, a more modest list of priorities one year

    January 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Gov. restores more felons' voting rights IOWA CITY (AP) -- Gov. Terry Branstad restored voting rights to more felons in 2013 than the prior two years combined, but thousands of others remain disenfranchised under a 2011 policy change. Data released by the governor's office to The Associated

    January 15, 2014

  • Man fatally shot at Fla. theater over texting WESLEY CHAPEL, Fla. (AP) -- A 71-year-old retired police officer accused of shooting a man dead in a Florida movie theater told authorities that "he was in fear of being attacked" during Monday's confrontation. Curtis Reeves is charged with second-de

    January 15, 2014

  • Iowa Senator: Congress must confirm election board DES MOINES -- An Iowa senator asked a U.S. Senate committee Wednesday to confirm appointees to a federal election commission so a decision can be made about whether Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz is properly using money for voter-fraud investig

    January 9, 2014

  • School Discipline Gov't: End overly zealous discipline in schools WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Obama administration is urging schools to abandon overly zealous discipline policies that civil rights advocates have long said lead to a school-to-prison pipeline that discriminates against minority students. The wide-ranging

    January 9, 2014 1 Photo

  • Governor, lawmakers set modest goals for 2014 DES MOINES -- After reaching bipartisan agreements on several major policy initiatives last year, Gov. Terry Branstad said Wednesday that he is setting more modest expectations for the 2014 legislative session. Speaking at The Associated Press' annua

    January 9, 2014

AP Video
National News