Proposed cull of Iowa boards will reduce public access, input

Pam Mackey Taylor is the Director of the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club.

This summer a new committee, mostly controlled by Governor Kim Reynolds, embarked on a project to review Iowa's boards and commissions. The six members of the Boards and Commissions Review Committee worked mostly in secrecy, using two-member subcommittees to avoid open meetings law requirements. Members announced their draft recommendations on August 29.

Some of those recommendations would have far-reaching impacts on everyday Iowans and how state government is able to respond to the problems and issues we face, such as clean water, healthy air, and government regulations that work for all of us.

The recommendations appear to reduce and restrict public access and input in the decision-making process, as well as public oversight of state government agencies. These recommendations appear to consolidate power within the governor’s office, where decisions are made behind closed doors with as little public input as possible, and where the only people who have input are the lobbyists and friends of the governor.


It is not clear what problem this project is trying to solve. Senate File 514, the massive state government reorganization plan, established the review committee to study the efficiency and effectiveness of each board, council, commission, committee, or other similar entity established by Iowa Code. The committee is supposed to evaluate whether each body's goals and objectives are currently being met and make recommendations for each one's future: continuation, elimination, consolidation, or reorganization. 

Iowa has had a long history of using boards and commissions to advise and guide how our government functions. The state of Iowa benefits from having members of the public serving on the boards and offering their expertise, often without compensation (with the exception of a few boards such as the DOT commission). 

Each board and commission established by Iowa Code had a purpose. It would make sense to provide a thorough review of each board, in public view and with input from Iowans, including the community affected by the board’s actions, the government agency, and even the board itself. 

That review has not happened. Instead, the Boards and Commissions Review Committee published recommendations without any details to justify their findings and draft recommendations for each board.

Here's the document the governor's office released last week. (Final recommendations will be published by September 30.) All require legislative action to take effect.


The recommendations are broken into two parts: general findings, and recommendations for each state board or commission.

It is extremely difficult to comment on the board-specific recommendations. Each board is grouped into one of four categories which describe its fate. Two of the categories are easy to understand: “Continue (as is)” and “Eliminate”. 

The other two categories—“Consolidate/Merge” and “Reorganize/Other Changes”—need much more explanation to understand what the board’s future will be. 

With respect to the categories used for the fate of each board:

Consolidate/Merge – there is no indication of what boards will be merged or consolidated. With each consolidation or merger, there are considerations about how large the merged board will be, how the members will be selected for the merged board and whether the members must meet any criteria in order to serve on the board, how the functions will be merged, and a host of other questions.

Reorganize/Other Changes – there is no indication of how any of the boards flagged in this category will be reorganized and what other changes might be made to the purpose of the board.

Eliminate - Without question, if a board’s function and purpose has ceased, then there is no reason to continue keeping the board and there is no reason to keep the sections of the Iowa Code that legislate the board’s existence. However, what is missing is a discussion of how the functions of a board will be handled by the agency in the future if a board is currently meeting and serving, or if the board’s functional purpose really has ceased.

The devil is in the details. Without the details, it is hard to know what to expect. I am watching several boards and the recommendations, including the Environmental Protection Commission (which is flagged for “Reorganization/Other Changes”), the State Preserves Advisory Board (which is flagged for “Consolidate/Merge”), and the Natural Resource Commission (that is slated for “Reorganization/Other Changes”). 

Editor's note from Laura Belin: During the August 29 meeting, committee members quickly read through brief comments about each state board. For the Environmental Protection Commission, they are recommending "removing the budget approval authority of that commission." For the State Preserves Advisory Board, they want to "eliminate the stand-alone board and have functions performed by the Natural Resource Commission." In addition, they want to remove budget approval authority for the Natural Resource Commission and shorten members' terms from six years to four years. It's not clear whether those are the only proposed changes for those bodies.


As with the board-specific recommendations, the committee presented its findings and recommendations without any details or explanation. They include:

FINDING 1: Iowa’s administrative state will continue to grow without an effective mechanism to review boards and commissions.   

FINDING 2: The current organization of advisory boards is neither effective nor efficient. 

FINDING 3: Iowa should strive for better public participation in its boards and commissions process. 

FINDING 4: Part-time boards and commissions are rarely well-positioned to manage the core functions of executive branch agencies. 

FINDING 5: Iowa requires a license or certification for too many occupations, and its standards across all license types are inconsistent, inefficient, and inequal. 

RECOMMENDATION 1: Establish an ongoing review process for all boards and commissions, including meaningful enforcement of sunrise and sunset provisions. 

RECOMMENDATION 2: Allow more meaningful perspective for public officials by streamlining the structure of advisory boards. 

RECOMMENDATION 3: Modernize Iowa’s open meetings laws and expand public participation by more easily allowing virtual or hybrid meeting options. 

RECOMMENDATION 4: Allow boards and commissions to convene only as truly needed by removing arbitrary meeting requirements. 

RECOMMENDATION 5: Allow the most qualified Iowans to serve on boards and commissions by repealing the arbitrary gender-balance requirement. 

RECOMMENDATION 6: Increase engagement on identified critical boards and commissions by compensating members for their “part time” work. 

RECOMMENDATION 7: Clarify the budget and rulemaking roles of a part-time board or commission that oversees a full-time executive branch agency. 

RECOMMENDATION 8: Implement clear, consistent, and efficient licensing standards to reduce barriers to entry into the workforce. 

Properly functioning administrative agencies protect the public. We should make sure they continue to do so. Arbitrarily sunsetting those boards is not conducive to ensuring government functions. Forcing an automatic review of the boards every few years is a waste of taxpayer money.

Reducing the number of boards, in and of itself, will not increase public participation in boards and commissions. In fact, it will do just the opposite. At the same time, the agencies and governor’s office should strive to ask a broad range of Iowans to serve on boards and commissions. It should not always be the same select people appointed to serve.

Committee members didn't clarify which boards and commissions are meeting excessively when they have no business. With online meeting tools, it is much easier to meet on a regular basis, with a short agenda, than when all meetings were in-person. Random convening of meetings would make it more difficult for members of the public to be involved, know when the meetings will be held, and stay on top of the issues. Plus, it could lead to matters not being addressed in a timely manner.

The recommendations imply that current advisory boards are neither effective nor efficient. Before we take away the protection these boards provide, we need some proof they are not doing their job. If they are not doing their job, then this review committee should make recommendations for changes – funding, staffing, better guidance and support from the staff. If some board needs some clarification of duties, it makes sense to makes changes to that board’s operation.

The governor has been concerned about the licenses and certifications that are required for some professions, but the welfare of the public is often left out of the discussion. Licenses and certifications ensure that workers are qualified to do the work. Nobody wants shoddy electrical work which leads to a house fire. Nobody wants a dental hygienist working on their mouths to have no training, and with no way to remove an unqualified person from the position. Nobody wants a neurosurgeon operating on the wrong side of a person’s brain. That is why the state licensing process exists.


It is troubling that the Review Committee recommends eliminating the state law that establishes gender balance on boards. The legislature enacted that law in 1986 because government boards and commissions were mostly comprised of men. Women, who comprise over half of the population were excluded. 

A diversity of voices makes our decisions and recommendations stronger. Having a seat at the table matters when decisions are being made. Local government boards and committees serve as training opportunities for those who are interested in serving in other positions, including elected positions. Serving provides opportunities to meet mentors who can enrich a volunteer's skills and knowledge. That makes our state stronger. 

The legislature should not act on this recommendation.   


The Boards and Commissions Review Committee has had two public meetings. The first was 15 minutes long and involved a rapid-fire list of assignments of the boards that each two-person subcommittee would be reviewing, along with a declaration that the subcommittees were not subject to the open meetings law.

The second Boards and Commissions Review Committee on August 29 lasted for an hour, but did not go into detail on its thoughts for the Board-Specific Recommendations. The agenda for that meeting (announced just the day before) lacked details of what would happen, and the governor's office did not distribute the recommendations beforehand. 

The Boards and Commissions Review Committee is holding only one public hearing, on September 6, starting at noon in Room 103 at the state capitol. You can sign up to speak by writing, but only about 50 people will be allowed to speak, and their time will be limited to two minutes. Iowans can submit written public comments to 

There will apparently be no public comment period on the committee's final recommendations, to be published by September 30. But Iowans can contact state lawmakers about the review at any time before the 2024 legislative session. 

It appears that this has been an exercise in using an axe when a scalpel is all that is needed.

Top photo of the Iowa capitol dome by Pam Mackey Taylor, published with permission.

  • Another political done deal...

    ...that will be very bad for the environment and will be enacted after a farcical public input process. It brings up grim memories of how Iowa ended up with the so-called Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

    • it was striking to me

      that all boards representing corporate ag interests are going to be left unchanged, while most of the boards representing the environmental community or sustainable farming will be downgraded or eliminated.

      • Absolutely true...

        ...and as you pointed out, it is not at all clear just what is in store for those boards. I'm sure the Iowa Farm Bureau has had plenty of influence.

        Thank you, Pam Mackey Taylor, and thank you to all the Iowans who do good work on behalf of Iowa's natural resources and landscape.

  • Tightening Governor's and lobbyists hold on state government

    The effect of all these changes, like the reorganization bill, is to weaken the public's access and input into decision-making of state government. The lawyers and lobbyists, who have access to the Governor and her staff, have enhanced their control. These are regressive changes for Iowa citizens and taxpayers.

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