There are numerous requirements that cities must follow regarding the publishing or posting of its city council minutes. While this task can be cumbersome at times, it is important to complete it so citizens have the chance to review the proceedings of their city council.
The publication requirements city council meeting minutes are found in Code of Iowa Section 372.13(6): “Within 15 days following a regular or special meeting of the council, the clerk shall cause the minutes of the proceedings of the council, including the total expenditure from each city fund, to be published in a newspaper of general circulation in the city. The publication shall include a list of all claims allowed and a summary of all receipts and shall show the gross amount of the claims.
The list of claims allowed shall show the name of the person or firm making the claim, the reason for the claim and the amount of the claim. If the reason for the claims is the same, two or more claims made by the same vendor, supplier or claimant may be consolidated if the number of claims consolidated and the total consolidated claim amount is listed in the statement. However, the city shall provide at its office upon request an unconsolidated list of all claims allowed. Matters discussed in closed session pursuant to section 21.3 shall not be published until entered on the public minutes.”
The state code provides an exception for cities less than 200 in population. In such cities, the state code says the minutes shall be posted in three public places as designated by the city code.
While the city clerk is not required by the Code to prepare the minutes, the clerk is responsible for ensuring the minutes are published or posted as required. Failure to comply is a simple misdemeanor. For cities where the council meets once a month, the minutes may need to be published before formal approval by the council. Any corrections or changes can be made as an amendment to the minutes when they are approved.
Information Required to be in the Minutes
The minutes must include a listing of the claims paid and a summary of receipts and are required by Code Section 21.3 to include, “the date, time and place, the members present, and the action taken at each meeting. The minutes shall show the results of each vote taken and information sufficient to indicate the vote of each member present.”
Beyond these requirements, the amount of additional detail must be determined by each city council. While the minimum requirements may have too little historical value, a full transcript of the meeting may be too long and would significantly increase publication costs. The best approach is to strive for something in the middle, with the minutes providing the legally required content and enough additional information to be of historical and functional value without being too lengthy.
It can be quite difficult for the individual preparing the minutes to accurately account for emotion and inflections in the voice that speak during a meeting. A factual accounting is the best approach, and editorial remarks should be omitted. Some clerks find it beneficial to take detailed notes along with an audio or video recording of each meeting that are not only used to prepare the official minutes but can also be used for future reference. In any event, the minutes that are published must match the official minutes that are retained permanently by the city (although cities may need to make corrections to minutes on occasion).
Pursuant to Section 21.5 of the Code, cities are required to audio record closed session meetings. However, there is no requirement that the open portion of council meetings be recorded. Many councils do record their proceedings in order to have an accurate record from which to prepare the minutes. Since there is no requirement to record the meetings, there is no requirement to retain any recordings. While any recordings are in existence, however, they are considered a public record and must be made available if requested. Cities that record their proceedings may want to work with their city attorney to develop proper procedures for handling this issue.
Section 21.5(4) requires that the detailed minutes and audio recording of a closed session be retained for at least one year. Legislation approved in 2015 by the state legislature allows the State Ombudsman to access the minutes and audio recordings of a closed session without obtaining a court order when such examination is relevant to an investigation under Code Chapter 2C and the information sought is not available through other reasonable means.
Approval and Signature Requirements
The minutes must be signed by the individual preparing them, whether this is the city clerk, the deputy clerk or another person authorized to take the minutes. Although a majority of mayors co-sign or attest the minutes, there is no legal requirement that they do so. However, it is common for auditors to note whether the mayor has signed the minutes. In addition, a majority of city councils act to approve their minutes even though there is no legal requirement to do so. At the time the minutes are considered for approval, the city council has the authority to amend the minutes to make corrections, changes or deletions.
Minutes of each regular or special council meeting must be published within 15 days following the meeting. Cities with a population less than 200, in which no newspaper is published, may meet the publication requirement by posting the minutes in three public places that have been permanently designated by ordinance. All other cities are required to publish their minutes in a newspaper of general circulation that meets the qualifications of a newspaper for official publication as defined in Section 618.3 of the Code:
- That it is issued at a regular frequency and has been published within the area and regularly mailed through the post office of entry for at least two years.
- That it has a list of subscribers who have paid, or promised to pay, at more than a nominal rate, for copies to be received during a stated period.
- That it devotes at least 25 percent of its total column space in more than one-half of its issues during any 12-month period to information of a public character other than advertising.
- That it is paid for by at least 50 percent of the persons or subscribers to whom it is distributed.
Failure by the clerk to properly publish the minutes is a simple misdemeanor. The provisions of the Code are applicable in cities in which a newspaper is published, or in cities of 200 population or more. In all other cities, posting the statement in three public places in the city which have been permanently designated by ordinance is sufficient compliance with this subsection.
Publication Rates and Fees
The director of the Iowa Department of Administrative Services establishes an official publication rate each fiscal year for all publications required by law, based on changes to the consumer price index for all urban consumers. The publication rate is expressed as a rate for each line of eight-point type two inches in length. The new rate is published each year in June in the Iowa Administrative Bulletin.
The Fiscal Year 2023 publication rates are:
- First insertion = 56.7 cents
- Each subsequent insertion = 38.2 cents
Claims, Receipts and Wages
Section 372.13 of the Code states that the city’s publication must include “the total expenditure from each city fund” and “a list of all claims allowed and a summary of all receipts and shall show the gross amount of the claims. The list of claims allowed shall show the name of the person or firm making the claim, the reason for the claim and the amount of the claim. If the reason for the claims is the same, two or more claims made by the same vendor, supplier or claimant may be consolidated if the number of claims consolidated and the total consolidated claim amount is listed in the statement. However, the city shall provide at its office upon request an unconsolidated list of all claims allowed. Matters discussed in closed session pursuant to Section 21.3 shall not be published until entered on the public minutes.”
In many cities, claims and receipts are calculated on a monthly basis, and claims allowed are all approved at a subsequent council meeting. The list of claims allowed and the summary of receipts would therefore have to be published within 15 days after the meeting at which they were approved.
In 1978, the Iowa Attorney General’s office issued an opinion that said, claims should be published in tabular form so as to be easily readable. If the name of a payee on a claim suggests the purpose of the payment, the purpose need not be stated. The municipality can direct the type size and form of the publication, and it shall be printed as such unless the size and form used are illegible. It is not necessary to list each employee’s salary each month if the gross yearly salary is otherwise published, but amounts paid to occasional, casual, temporary employees and others who do not receive an annual salary would have to be listed.
In lieu of publishing a list of wage claims monthly, the State Auditor’s Office has suggested that cities can satisfy the publication requirement with respect to such claims by annually publishing the gross salary figure of its employees. Neither the Code nor the Attorney General’s opinion addresses in any detail the form or the detail required for the publication of the summary of receipts. The State Auditor’s Office has indicated that summarizing the receipts in a publication is acceptable.
Also, in cities having more than 150,000 population, the council must print each month in pamphlet form a detailed itemized statement of all receipts and disbursements of the city, and a summary of its proceedings during the preceding month, and furnish copies to the city library, the daily newspapers of the city and to persons who apply at the office of the city clerk.