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Neighbors Growing Together | Dec 20, 2014

WHAT'S ON THE AGENDA

By Ron Osborne | May 09, 2012

 

Following is a statement presented by me during "Public Comments" agenda item  at Henry County Supervisors meeting on 5/8/12. This statement is about concerns I have developed over many months of reading virtually all  supervisors agendas since I began regularly attending meetings about mid September last year and continuing to the present. I have not developed these concerns in haste.

I have shared these concerns with the Supervisors because I think they may have acted, on occasion, outside the requirements of the law; but mostly I have shared them because I think they are, perhaps unwittingly, shortchanging citizens by not giving clear and complete information to the public in some agendas they post.

 Bottom line  agendas done right serve as a starting point for something I think all citizens in a democratic society should expect from their elected officials: transparency and openness.

While this may seem pie-in-the-sky to some , I am certain that assessment will quickly change if  issues are discussed or decisions made that have affected  them  and they have been blindsided due to a vague, incomplete or unclear meeting agenda.

I hope some of you, after reading the following statement, will come to share my concern and perhaps discuss it with friends and/or convey your own concern to our elected officials.

Statement: 

"During the May 3rd meeting of the supervisors there was discussion under the agenda item “Steve Wilson Boundaries of discussion”. I would like to make a statement in that regard this morning.

 

Mr. Wilson spoke to his understanding of the terms agenda, public comment, public hearing, county discussion, and public forum. Some or all of these terms are or have been used in the body of Henry County Supervisor meeting agendas.

Following Mr. Wilson’s comments Mr. White made comments that “….we referenced our county attorney and it is his opinion that we leave the agendas written the way they are…. I called ISAC…. and talked to their legal counsel and was informed that …… a good part of Iowa counties use the same wording as far as county business, discussion of county business….” that Henry County uses in their agendas.

Continuing, Mr. White stated “…. our motivation for that” ( meaning the use of “Other County Discussion as an agenda item) is we do have employees that may not be on the agenda but there may be things that happen in the 24 hours since we are required to publish this (the agenda) say a computer goes down or John has some custodial problem…..we want them to have the opportunity to come in and discuss that.”

In a Sunshine Advisory Bulletin issued by the Iowa Attorney General is the following advice, quoted here in part: “Unless an emergency requires immediate action, only matters included on the tentative agenda may be discussed at a meeting.”

Does a computer problem or a custodial problem rise to the level of an emergency? Do these types of matters belong in the meeting? Would they not be more efficiently and appropriately addressed by supervisory personnel outside of the meeting? But this misses the point.

Mr. White also brought to the discussion that “….if….something down at conservation is not of great interest to everyone in the county …. we could have that discussion and come to a conclusion and without having to put it on an agenda.”

And later he says, “….we have some citizens that appear before us that are, they’re probably not real happy that they’re here and that’s the reason they’re here. They don’t want to be told to come back three days from now and discuss it again. They want gratification or satisfaction or discussion and if it does not influence or if there doesn’t have to be a vote taken, if there is no debate necessary, if it’s just a problem that this individual’s having I don’t see why the three of us cannot solve that without incorporating everyone in the county.”

I take issue with this notion. I think there is a clear reason you “cannot solve that without incorporating everyone in the county”. That reason is because the individual clearly sees the problem as involving the county (i.e. county business). That is why he or she has appeared before you. That is why the discussion needs to take part only after advance notice of it is given to the public.

Mr. White’s statements appear to be a rationale for discussions such as one that took place with persons interested in “Sale of Railroad Property in Section 8, 9 & 22 of Scott Township” that took place during supervisors meeting on May 1, 2012 It also appears to be a rationale for a discussion regarding RUSS that took place at Supervisors meeting on November 15, 2011 during agenda item listed for that meeting as “Open Forum”.

I submit that the discussions on May 1st this year and on November 15th last year were not consistent with any items on the agendas for those meetings and that these discussions likely were illegal.

I offer the following in support of this argument:

1. An Iowa Attorney General’s Sunshine Advisory Bulletin entitled “Advance Agendas for Public Meetings” says, in part, the following:

“Agendas must provide notice sufficient to inform the public of the specific actions to be taken and matters to be discussed at the meeting. (An agenda that merely states “Approve minutes, old business, new business” does not provide reasonable notice to the public.)…..”

“Clear and effective agendas are a matter of good policy…….

Good agendas are also a matter of law - Iowa’s Open Meetings Law.”

“Officials and citizens alike should remember: Meeting agendas are

the public’s invitation to watch government in action. So, agendas should take care to describe the specific actions to be taken and

matters to be discussed in public meetings.”

2. Chapter 21 of the Code of Iowa, “Open Meetings Law”, states that a meeting requires several elements. One of these requirements is “Deliberation or action upon any matter within the scope of the governmental body’s policy-making duties.” The meaning of “deliberation” is also set out in Chapter 21 “ and that definition encompasses “discussion“.

It is also significant that the May 1st discussions took place after the county attorney had given advice to the Board of Supervisors that the topic raised should not be brought before the Board as it had not been timely posted as an agenda item as required by law. Yet the discussion happened.

This is what some of your behaviours look like from the back row. They look troublesome. Troublesome because they seem to possibly not conform to the law. Troublesome because they seem incongruous with widely accepted concepts of transparency and openness in government.

I also am compelled to say I think that any assessment that certain topics and concerns that come before the Board are not of interest to the public and therefore don’t require a place on the public agenda and can be discussed at will is a great conceit.

In light of what has been said here I hope corrections will be made to future agendas of the Board. The public deserves your respect, and insofar as that may now in any way be damaged it is clearly within your power to restore it.

I have not slept well. These thoughts have not been easy to bring to you. I have done so in the hope that they will be of benefit to you as well as to all civic minded citizens of Henry County."

Sincerely,

Ron Osborne

5/7/12

End Statement 

Iowa Attorney General's "Sunshine Advisory Bulletins" are easily accessed by internet search. They are written in clear language easily understood by the layman. I have shared some of these in handouts I provided to the supervisors. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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