IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa has agreed to pay $55,000 to settle a lawsuit that claimed its 2015 presidential search violated the state's open meetings law.
The university did not admit to any wrongdoing in the settlement, which was filed in district court Wednesday. But it did agree to abide by some sunshine policies during future presidential searches, such as streaming open portions of committee meetings online and giving the public at least three business days' notice for meetings unless that's "impossible."
The deal resolves a lawsuit that was initially filed by retired professor Harold Hammond during the 2015 search, which resulted in the controversial hiring of business consultant Bruce Harreld. Retired professor John Menninger refiled the case after Hammond died in 2016.
The case alleged the search committee members violated Iowa's open meetings law by meeting outside of the state and improperly closing meetings.
"This settlement is the result of a good-faith effort to resolve the dispute, and we believe it is in the best interests of all involved to move forward," said university spokeswoman Jeneane Beck.
The lawsuit argued two committee meetings that began before 7:30 a.m. in a suburb of Chicago weren't reasonably accessible to the public. It also challenged the committee's rationale for closing meetings during candidate interviews and evaluations.
A university lawyer argued that the search "substantially complied" with the law, which doesn't specifically require meetings to be held in Iowa. He said the 218-mile distance to the Illinois meeting site was closer to the university campus than some cities in Iowa.
The settlement doesn't require future search meetings to be held in Iowa. It also still allows for portions of meetings to be closed as long as that expectation is stated on published agendas along with the reason secrecy is necessary.
Attorney Gregg Geerdes, who represented Hammond and Menninger, said he hopes the deal will mean "the public will no longer be prevented from observing public meetings which are held at inconvenient locations."
Geerdes will be paid $55,000 in legal fees under the settlement. The case had been scheduled to go to trial in November.