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Judge dismisses 50 of 51 open meetings law violation charges against Upper Explorerland

Posted: Tue, Feb 14, 2012 11:11 AM

A judge has thrown out 50 of the 51 counts alleging open meetings violations against Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission.

UERPC officials had filed a motion with Judge Thomas A. Bitter of the First Judicial District of Iowa, asking for dismissal of all counts. 

The case originated from a September 23rd, 2010 meeting in which the board of Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission met to consider whether to buy a building in Decorah to alleviate the over-crowding at the Postville offices.  The City of Postville and Postville resident Jason Meyer filed open meetings law complaints against UERPC following the meeting.

On October 18th, the plaintiffs obtained an injunction prohibiting UERPC from entering into a contract to buy the Decorah property.  The court issued a ruling October 25th which stated UERPC could not buy the property based on the September 23rd vote, but could hold future meetings to discuss the purchase of the property.  On November 30th the UERPC board met and voted to purchase the Decorah property.

That led Meyer and the City of Postville to file an amended petition on January 19th 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 entire area served by UERPC.

The single count still remaining involves the November 30th 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.