Various actions and documents related to city business might require notarization. As such, many cities have a staff member (often the city clerk) become a notary public to be able to notarize certain items. While this can be helpful, it is important to note that city clerks are not required to be notaries to perform their essential duties. As detailed in Code of Iowa Section 380.7(4), cities must “Authenticate all measures except motions with the clerk’s signature and certification as to time and manner of publication, if any. The clerk’s certification is presumptive evidence of the facts stated therein.”
To authenticate a measure, a city clerk only needs to provide a signed attestation to a resolution or ordinance, which certifies that the measure was adopted by the city council on a certain date and/or published on a certain date.
City staff members that are commissioned notaries may perform all of the notarial acts detailed in Chapter 9B of the Code. For instance, if a city resolution approves the sale of city property and authorizes the mayor to execute a deed, Section 380.7 authorizes the city clerk to “authenticate” or attest the authenticity of the resolution. However, only a city clerk who is also a commissioned notary public may then go on to authenticate or attest the mayor’s signature on the city’s deed conveying the property.
In simple terms, a notary public is an individual commissioned to perform a notarial act by the Secretary of State. Notaries, as described by the Secretary of State, serve the public as an impartial and unbiased witness by identifying persons who come before the notary. The most common function of the notary is to prevent fraud by attesting that a person actually signed a document. Chapter 9B defines a notarial act as “taking an acknowledgment, administering an oath or affirmation, taking a verification on oath or affirmation, witnessing or attesting a signature, certifying or attesting a copy, and noting a protest of a negotiable instrument.”
A person who is not a commissioned notary public can only administer oaths or perform other notarial acts, such as the authentication of documents, and then only if state code provisions other than Chapter 9B specifically authorizes them to do so. A city clerk who is not commissioned as a notary public would still be considered a “notarial officer” when authenticating measures under Section 380.7.
Becoming a Notary Public
An applicant to be a commissioned notary public can apply through the Secretary of State’s office and must pay a $30 fee. Applicants must meet all of the following qualifications and is subject to approval by the Secretary of State:
- Be at least 18 years of age
- Be a citizen or permanent legal resident of the U.S.
- Be a resident of or have a place of employment or practice in Iowa
- Be able to read and write English
- Not be disqualified under Code Section 9B.23, which provides the grounds for the Secretary of State to deny an applicant, such as a lack of honesty, integrity, competency or reliability
Notary public terms last three years and the Secretary of State is required to provide notice of an expiring term two months prior to expiration.
Most commonly, notary publics are needed to act as a witness to certify or attest signatures and documents. This includes signed documents or electronic records and requires the notary to ensure the signer’s identity and willingness to sign. Documents must include the following:
- Text committing the signer in some way
- An original signature of the signer, not a photocopy (if a signature is required)
- A notarial “certificate,” which may appear on the document itself or on an attachment
Iowa law requires notaries public to use a notary stamp or seal. For a notary commissioned by the Secretary of State, the stamp or seal must include:
- The words “Notarial Seal” and “Iowa”
- The words “Commission Number” followed by the notary’s commission number
- The words “My Commission Expires” followed by the expiration date or a blank line to write in the date
State law requires the individual making a statement or executing the signature on a record to appear personally before the notarial officer and that the individual can be identified properly. Identification can be accomplished if the notarial officer has personal knowledge of the person appearing “if the individual is personally known to the officer through dealings sufficient to provide reasonable certainty that the individual has the identity claimed.”
A notarial officer has satisfactory evidence of the identity if the individual can provide a passport, driver’s license, or government-issued non-driver identification card, or other form of government identification. Identity can also be established through a verification on oath or affirmation of a credible witness personally appearing before the officer and known to the notarial officer, or whom the notarial officer can identify on the basis of the aforementioned forms of identification.
Electronic notarization is the process of notarizing a signature on an electronic document by electronic means. It can also include performing other notarial acts such as authenticating electronic documents and records. As described in Section 9B.20, a notary public may use one or more tamper-evident technologies to perform notarial acts on electronic records and that before a notary performs a notarial act with an electronic record, the notary must notify the Secretary of State that he or she will be electronically notarizing electronic records and identifying the technology the notary intends to use