Thursday, October 18, 2007

WLA Conference - Open Meetings

Krista Ross did a great presentation on the Wisconsin Open meeting laws. She originally did it for her library system's board of directors.

The open meetings law creates a presumption that meetings of governmental bodies must be held inopen session. The Open Meetings law applies when there is a purpose to engage in governmental business (including discussion, decision or information gathering on matters within its realm of authority) and the number of members present is sufficient to determine the governmental body’s course of action (i.e., you have a quorum).

The two most basic requirements are to give advance public notice of each of its meetings, and conduct all of its business in open session, unless an exemption to the open session requirement applies.

Notice must be given to:
  1. The public (as a general rule, in 3 different locations where the public is likely to see it.)
  2. Any member of the news media who have submitted a written request for notice
  3. The official newspaper, designated pursuant to state statute, or if none exists, to a news medium likely to give notice in the area.
In general the notice must give “time, date, place, and subject matter of the meeting, including that intended for at any contemplated closed session. Governmental bodies may not use general
subject matter designations such as “miscellaneous business” or “agenda revisions” or “such matters as are authorized by law” as a way to raise any subject.

There are four open session requirements:
  1. Accessibility: A meeting should be held in a place reasonably accessible to members of the public and open to all citizens at all times,preferably in a public place such as a municipal hall or school, rather than on private premises.
  2. Tape Recording and Videotaping: Citizens have the right to attend and observe meetings that are held in open session. They also have the right to tape or videotape open session meetings as long it does not disrupt the meeting.
  3. Citizen Participation: The law does not grant citizens the right to participate in the meeting. The governmental body itself is free to determine whether to allow citizen participation at its meetings and may limit the degree to which citizens participate.
  4. Minutes of meetings and records of votes: Requires that a governmental body keep a record of the motions and roll call votes at each meeting of the body.

Closed session:
  • Dismissal, demotion, discipline, licensing, and tenure
  • Compensation
  • Conducting public business with competitive or bargaining implications
  • Conferring with legal counsel about litigation
Notice must indicate the subject of the closed session. If vote unanimous, do not need a roll call. Must announce in open session the nature of the closed session.

All voting should be in open session, unless doing so would compromise the need for the closed session. Should have minutes of closed session which become public after the issue is resolved.

If you do not re-open in open session, you cannot meet or do any business for at least 12 hours.

Enforcement: Attorney General and the District Attorney have authority.

Penalty: any member of the body who "knowingly" attends; fine is $25 to $300 for each violation.

Other sites:
  • League of Municipalities web site:
  • Wisconsin Department of Justice
Can go into closed session, without advance notice, but only for an item which is already on the agenda, but cannot come back into open session. If you put times on the length of closed session or on agenda it will limit the length of the session.

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