At the last school board meeting, some of the board members mentioned that the district had gotten a legal opinion from its attorney about the board’s proposed policy on public comment at board meetings. The policy—much toned down from what had been proposed earlier—is scheduled to come up for a vote at this week’s board meeting. I think people ought to know what the board’s attorney says about what the board can and can’t do in regulating public comment, so I asked the district for a copy of the opinion.
At the meeting last week, one board member said that the attorney’s opinion had not been included in the board packet because it was protected attorney work product. In fact, though, the relevant section of the Iowa Open Records law protects as confidential only those “Records which represent or constitute the work product of an attorney, which are related to litigation or claim made by or against a public body.” I have no reason to think the attorney’s opinion was related to any “litigation or claim made by or against a public body,” or that any such litigation or claim has been made by anyone at all, so I disagree that the opinion is confidential.
Moreover, it would be pretty anomalous if the attorney’s opinions on pending policies were confidential. Opinions by the board’s counsel should be treated no differently than opinions by the state Attorney General on state law issues, which are published as a matter of course. It makes sense that the public, and not just the board members, should hear what the board’s attorney says about the legality of a proposed policy, so they can comment in an informed way on the proposal and evaluate whether the board members are making a good decision.
I made the request a week and a half ago, and still haven’t received any reply. I know it’s a busy time of year, but it’s not a burdensome request, and it certainly makes sense that the public should see the opinion before the board votes on the policy. Stay tuned.
UPDATE, 8/25/14: The district has now responded to my request by saying that it will not provide the document because “the requested document is not subject to release as it is a privileged communication between the Board and District legal counsel.” I’m following up with a question about how the document is “related to litigation or claim made by or against a public body.” Again, stay tuned.