Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission
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Ruling in Open Meeting Violations Case

A judge has thrown out 50 of the 51 counts alleging open meetings violations against Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission which maintains offices in Decorah and Postville. The Commission had filed a motion with the court, asking for dismissal of all counts. Plaintiffs in the case are the City of Postville and Jason Meyer of Postville.

Judge Thomas A. Bitter of the First Judicial District of Iowa made the ruling Feb. 9. The judge also ruled that trial be held on the remaining count which alleges Upper Explorerland “purposefully” prevented the public from having access at a meeting.

The case originated from a Sept. 23, 2010 meeting in which Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission met to consider whether to buy a building in Decorah to alleviate the over-crowding at the Postville offices.

At that meeting, which included members of the public and a representative from the Postville newspaper, a lengthy discussion was held before a motion was made to buy the property in Decorah, which had been determined to be the most viable of all Northeast Iowa possible sites reviewed. The board unanimously agreed to a paper ballot vote. Each member cast ballots and the ballots were counted, showing 10 in favor of buying the property and six opposed.

On Oct. 18, 2010, the plaintiffs obtained an injunction prohibiting the Commission from entering into a contract for the purchase of real property in Decorah. A hearing on that motion was held Oct. 25 and the court issued a ruling stating that the Commission was enjoined from purchasing the property based on the Sept. 23 vote, but that the court could not prohibit the Commission from holding future meetings on the issue.

At a meeting in October 2010, the Commission voted to “table” the issue for 30 days to consider all options for expansion, and on Nov. 30, 2010, the Commission met and voted to purchase the Decorah property.

On Jan. 19, 2011, the plaintiffs filed an amended petition alleging 51 separate violations of Iowa’s Open Meetings Laws dating as far back as 1999. The allegations stated that agendas were not posted properly and that Upper Explorerland did not properly publish the names and salaries of the commission members for the years 1999 through 2009.

Judge Bitter’s ruling states the Commission properly posted the agendas on its bulletin board, and also that it properly published names and salaries in the Oelwein Daily Register. Plaintiffs had alleged that the Oelwein Register is not a “newspaper of general circulation” because it doesn’t serve the entirety of the commission area.

The remaining count involves the Nov. 30, 2010 meeting in which some members of the public were required to stand in the hallway outside the meeting room because the room was not large enough to accommodate all attendees. Judge Bitter decided that a factual determination needs to be made at trial concerning this allegation. “This is a disputed factual issue,” the judge wrote in his decision.

A date for the trial, which will be held in Allamakee County, has not been set.