Public notices are used to inform the public of city government matters and when certain actions will occur. Cities are required to publish or post public notices for a variety of items and must follow the provisions of the Code of Iowa that detail how such notices should be given.
When Notices Are Required
Public notices are required on a large number of matters and one basic rule that city officials can use is that any public hearing must be preceded by a public notice announcing the date, time and place of the hearing. Visit the Public Hearings page to see a list of when public hearings are required by state law.
Some of the more common actions that necessitate a public notice include adopting a city budget or budget amendment (Sections 384.16 and 384.18 of the Code of Iowa), approving plans for public improvement projects (Section 26.12) and approving zoning ordinances (Section 414.4). Cities are also free to publish “any matter of public importance” as described in Section 618.14.
The majority of public notices must follow the requirements set in Section 362.3 of the Code, which states that notices must be published not less than four days and not more than 20 days before a public hearing or other action is taken. Some public notices are subject to different timeframes, including those used for adopting a budget or budget amendment as they must be published not less than 10 days and not more than 20 days before the public hearing. Zoning ordinances also have a different schedule as related notices must be published not less than seven days and not more than 20 days.
When counting days on the calendar to determine when a notice must be published, Code Section 4.1(34) provides guidance. The first day of the timeframe is excluded and the last day is included, unless the last day falls on Sunday, in which case the timeframe is extended to the following Monday. If the last day falls on a legal holiday, the timeframe is extended to the next day.
Where Notices Must be Published or Posted
Code Section 362.3 states public notices must be published in a “newspaper published once weekly and having general circulation in the city”. However, cities that are 200 or fewer in population are not required to publish notices and notice shall be made by posting in three public places which have been permanently designated by ordinance.
Chapter 618 of the Code provides more specifics on the newspaper used to publish notices. In particular, Section 618.3 requires the newspaper to be generally circulated in the city, published at least once a week for at least 50 weeks of the year and regularly mailed through the post office of entry for at least two years. The newspaper must also devote at least 25 percent of its total column space in more than half its issues to public information. Finally, the newspaper must have a list of subscribers who have paid or promised to pay more than a nominal rate for copies and is paid by at least 50 percent of the persons it is distributed to.
Code Section 618.11 calls for the Iowa Department of Administrative Services to set the publication rate each fiscal year. This rate is calculated by applying the consumer price index for all urban consumers as determined by the Department of Labor to the previous rate. The prescribed rate is for each line of eight point type two inches in length, or its equivalent, for the publication in a newspaper of any notice, order or other required publication. The rates for FY 2021 are as follows:
- One insertion = 50.3 cents
- Each subsequent insertion = 33.9 cents
While the standard rate is provided for eight point type, Section 618.17 allows the minimum type to be six point. Cities are encouraged to work with their newspaper to determine what type of print should be used for public notices and to ensure all charges are accurate.
If an error is made on the public notice, such as listing an incorrect public hearing date or including incorrect budget data, the city must republish the notice with corrected information. Even minor errors in a notice can result in the invalidation of the matter for which publication was required, so in almost all instances the notice should be corrected and republished. This will likely force the city to delay a required public hearing until the next regular city council meeting. If so, the public notice must reflect the new time and date of the hearing.
Unfortunately, there is not much a city can do if a newspaper makes an error in publishing a notice, whether it was not published in time or a mistake was made in adequately printing the submitted text. To ensure citizens are properly informed, a corrected public notice must be published before a public hearing or other action can be taken, which often will delay proceedings. When such errors are made and an additional public notice must be published, the city should not be required to pay for the second publication. Also, Section 618.18 of the Code states when a public notice is not published within one month of submission to a newspaper, the maximum rate allowed by law shall be reduced by 25 percent.
Elected Official Contact Information
Code Section 70A.40 requires cities to post contact information for elected officials on the city’s Web site if the entity has one. A city that does not already have a Web site does not need to create one to post the contact information. Contact information may be either a phone number or email address.