Election canvassing boards operating under ss. 7.51, 7.53, and 7.60 are governmental bodies subject to the open meetings law — including the public notice, open session, and reasonable public access requirements — when they convene for the purpose of carrying out their statutory canvassing activities, but not when they are gathered only as individual inspectors fulfilling administrative duties. OAG 5-14
Meetings of governmental bodies. 19.83(1)(1)
Every meeting of a governmental body shall be preceded by public notice as provided in s. 19.84
, and shall be held in open session. At any meeting of a governmental body, all discussion shall be held and all action of any kind, formal or informal, shall be initiated, deliberated upon and acted upon only in open session except as provided in s. 19.85
During a period of public comment under s. 19.84 (2)
, a governmental body may discuss any matter raised by the public.
History: 1975 c. 426
; 1997 a. 123
When a quorum of a governmental body attends the meeting of another governmental body when any one of the members is not also a member of the second body, the gathering is a “meeting," unless the gathering is social or by chance. State ex rel. Badke v. Greendale Village Board, 173 Wis. 2d 553
, 494 N.W.2d 408
Public notice. 19.84(1)(1)
Public notice of all meetings of a governmental body shall be given in the following manner:
By communication from the chief presiding officer of a governmental body or such person's designee to the public, to those news media who have filed a written request for such notice, and to the official newspaper designated under ss. 985.04
or, if none exists, to a news medium likely to give notice in the area.
Every public notice of a meeting of a governmental body shall set forth the time, date, place and subject matter of the meeting, including that intended for consideration at any contemplated closed session, in such form as is reasonably likely to apprise members of the public and the news media thereof. The public notice of a meeting of a governmental body may provide for a period of public comment, during which the body may receive information from members of the public.
Public notice of every meeting of a governmental body shall be given at least 24 hours prior to the commencement of such meeting unless for good cause such notice is impossible or impractical, in which case shorter notice may be given, but in no case may the notice be provided less than 2 hours in advance of the meeting.
Separate public notice shall be given for each meeting of a governmental body at a time and date reasonably proximate to the time and date of the meeting.
Departments and their subunits in any University of Wisconsin System institution or campus are exempt from the requirements of subs. (1)
but shall provide meeting notice which is reasonably likely to apprise interested persons, and news media who have filed written requests for such notice.
Notwithstanding the requirements of s. 19.83
and the requirements of this section, a governmental body which is a formally constituted subunit of a parent governmental body may conduct a meeting without public notice as required by this section during a lawful meeting of the parent governmental body, during a recess in such meeting or immediately after such meeting for the purpose of discussing or acting upon a matter which was the subject of that meeting of the parent governmental body. The presiding officer of the parent governmental body shall publicly announce the time, place and subject matter of the meeting of the subunit in advance at the meeting of the parent body.
Sub. (2) does not expressly require that the notice indicate whether a meeting will be purely deliberative or if action will be taken. The notice must alert the public of the importance of the meeting. Although a failure to expressly state whether action will be taken could be a violation, the importance of knowing whether a vote would be taken is diminished when no input from the audience is allowed or required. State ex rel. Olson v. City of Baraboo Joint Review Board, 2002 WI App 64
, 252 Wis. 2d 628
, 643 N.W.2d 796
Sub. (2) sets forth a reasonableness standard for determining whether notice of a meeting is sufficient that strikes the proper balance between the public's right to information and the government's need to efficiently conduct its business. The standard requires taking into account the circumstances of the case, which includes analyzing such factors as the burden of providing more detailed notice, whether the subject is of particular public interest, and whether it involves non-routine action that the public would be unlikely to anticipate. Buswell v. Tomah Area School District, 2007 WI 71
, 301 Wis. 2d 178
, 732 N.W.2d 804
The supreme court declined to review the validity of the procedure used to give notice of a joint legislative committee on conference alleged to violate the sub. (3) 24-hour notice requirement. The court will not determine whether internal operating rules or procedural statutes have been complied with by the legislature in the course of its enactments and will not intermeddle in what it views, in the absence of constitutional directives to the contrary, to be purely legislative concerns. Ozanne v. Fitzgerald, 2011 WI 43
, 334 Wis. 2d 70
, 798 N.W.2d 436
Under sub. (1) (b), a written request for notice of meetings of a governmental body should be filed with the chief presiding officer or designee and a separate written request should be filed with each specific governmental body. 65 Atty. Gen. 166.
The method of giving notice pursuant to sub. (1) is discussed. 65 Atty. Gen. 250.
The specificity of notice required by a governmental body is discussed. 66 Atty. Gen. 143, 195.
The requirements of notice given to newspapers under this section is discussed. 66 Atty. Gen. 230.
A town board, but not an annual town meeting, is a “governmental body" within the meaning of the open meetings law. 66 Atty. Gen. 237.
News media who have filed written requests for notices of public meetings cannot be charged fees by governmental bodies for communication of the notices. 77 Atty. Gen. 312
A newspaper is not obligated to print a notice received under sub. (1) (b), nor is governmental body obligated to pay for publication. Martin v. Wray, 473 F. Supp. 1131
Any meeting of a governmental body, upon motion duly made and carried, may be convened in closed session under one or more of the exemptions provided in this section. The motion shall be carried by a majority vote in such manner that the vote of each member is ascertained and recorded in the minutes. No motion to convene in closed session may be adopted unless the chief presiding officer announces to those present at the meeting at which such motion is made, the nature of the business to be considered at such closed session, and the specific exemption or exemptions under this subsection by which such closed session is claimed to be authorized. Such announcement shall become part of the record of the meeting. No business may be taken up at any closed session except that which relates to matters contained in the chief presiding officer's announcement of the closed session. A closed session may be held for any of the following purposes:
Deliberating concerning a case which was the subject of any judicial or quasi-judicial trial or hearing before that governmental body.
Considering dismissal, demotion, licensing or discipline of any public employee or person licensed by a board or commission or the investigation of charges against such person, or considering the grant or denial of tenure for a university faculty member, and the taking of formal action on any such matter; provided that the faculty member or other public employee or person licensed is given actual notice of any evidentiary hearing which may be held prior to final action being taken and of any meeting at which final action may be taken. The notice shall contain a statement that the person has the right to demand that the evidentiary hearing or meeting be held in open session. This paragraph and par. (f)
do not apply to any such evidentiary hearing or meeting where the employee or person licensed requests that an open session be held.
Considering employment, promotion, compensation or performance evaluation data of any public employee over which the governmental body has jurisdiction or exercises responsibility.
Except as provided in s. 304.06 (1) (eg)
and by rule promulgated under s. 304.06 (1) (em)
, considering specific applications of probation, extended supervision or parole, or considering strategy for crime detection or prevention.
Deliberating or negotiating the purchasing of public properties, the investing of public funds, or conducting other specified public business, whenever competitive or bargaining reasons require a closed session.
Deliberating by the council on unemployment insurance in a meeting at which all employer members of the council or all employee members of the council are excluded.
Deliberating by the council on worker's compensation in a meeting at which all employer members of the council or all employee members of the council are excluded.
Deliberating under s. 157.70
if the location of a burial site, as defined in s. 157.70 (1) (b)
, is a subject of the deliberation and if discussing the location in public would be likely to result in disturbance of the burial site.
Considering financial, medical, social or personal histories or disciplinary data of specific persons, preliminary consideration of specific personnel problems or the investigation of charges against specific persons except where par. (b)
applies which, if discussed in public, would be likely to have a substantial adverse effect upon the reputation of any person referred to in such histories or data, or involved in such problems or investigations.
Conferring with legal counsel for the governmental body who is rendering oral or written advice concerning strategy to be adopted by the body with respect to litigation in which it is or is likely to become involved.
Consideration of requests for confidential written advice from the elections commission under s. 5.05 (6a)
or the ethics commission under s. 19.46 (2)
, or from any county or municipal ethics board under s. 19.59 (5)
No governmental body may commence a meeting, subsequently convene in closed session and thereafter reconvene again in open session within 12 hours after completion of the closed session, unless public notice of such subsequent open session was given at the same time and in the same manner as the public notice of the meeting convened prior to the closed session.
Nothing in this subchapter shall be construed to authorize a governmental body to consider at a meeting in closed session the final ratification or approval of a collective bargaining agreement under subch. I
, or V of ch. 111
which has been negotiated by such body or on its behalf.
Although a meeting was properly closed, in order to refuse inspection of records of the meeting, the custodian was required by s. 19.35 (1) (a) to state specific and sufficient public policy reasons why the public interest in nondisclosure outweighed the public's right of inspection. Oshkosh Northwestern Co. v. Oshkosh Library Board, 125 Wis. 2d 480
, 373 N.W.2d 459
(Ct. App. 1985).
The balance between protection of reputation under sub. (1) (f) and the public interest in openness is discussed. Wis. State Journal v. UW-Platteville, 160 Wis. 2d 31
, 465 N.W.2d 266
(Ct. App. 1990). See also Pangman v. Stigler, 161 Wis. 2d 828
, 468 N.W.2d 784
(Ct. App. 1991).
A “case" under sub. (1) (a) contemplates an adversarial proceeding. It does not connote the mere application for and granting of a permit. Hodge v. Turtle Lake, 180 Wis. 2d 62
, 508 N.W.2d 603
A closed session to discuss an employee's dismissal was properly held under sub. (1) (b) and did not require notice to the employee under sub. (1) (b) when no evidentiary hearing or final action took place in the closed session. State ex rel. Epping v. City of Neillsville, 218 Wis. 2d 516
, 581 N.W.2d 548
(Ct. App. 1998), 97-0403
The exception under sub. (1) (e) must be strictly construed. A private entity's desire for confidentiality does not permit a closed meeting. A governing body's belief that secret meetings will produce cost savings does not justify closing the door to public scrutiny. Providing contingencies allowing for future public input was insufficient. Because legitimate concerns were present for portions of some of the meetings does not mean the entirety of the meetings fell within the narrow exception under sub. (1) (e). Citizens for Responsible Development v. City of Milton, 2007 WI App 114
, 300 Wis. 2d 649
, 731 N.W.2d 640
Section 19.35 (1) (a) does not mandate that, when a meeting is closed under this section, all records created for or presented at the meeting are exempt from disclosure. The court must still apply the balancing test articulated in
Linzmeyer, 2002 WI 84
, 254 Wis. 2d 306
. Zellner v. Cedarburg School District, 2007 WI 53
, 300 Wis. 2d 290
, 731 N.W.2d 240
Nothing in sub. (1) (e) suggests that a reason for going into closed session must be shared by each municipality participating in an intergovernmental body. It is not inconsistent with the open meetings law for a body to move into closed session under sub. (1) (e) when the bargaining position to be protected is not shared by every member of the body. Once a vote passes to go into closed session, the reason for requesting the vote becomes the reason of the entire body. Herro v. Village of McFarland, 2007 WI App 172
, 303 Wis. 2d 749
, 737 N.W.2d 55
In allowing governmental bodies to conduct closed sessions in limited circumstances, this section does not create a blanket privilege shielding closed session contents from discovery. There is no implicit or explicit confidentiality mandate. A closed meeting is not synonymous with a meeting that, by definition, entails a privilege exempting its contents from discovery. Sands v. The Whitnall School District, 2008 WI 89
, 312 Wis. 2d 1
, 754 N.W.2d 439
Boards of review cannot rely on the exemptions in sub. (1) to close any meeting in view of the explicit requirements in s. 70.47 (2m). 65 Atty. Gen. 162.
A university subunit may discuss promotions not relating to tenure, merit increases, and property purchase recommendations in closed session. 66 Atty. Gen. 60.
Neither sub. (1) (c) nor (f) authorizes a school board to make actual appointments of a new member in closed session. 74 Atty. Gen. 70
A county board chairperson and committee are not authorized by sub. (1) (c) to meet in closed session to discuss appointments to county board committees. In appropriate circumstances, sub. (1) (f) would authorize closed sessions. 76 Atty. Gen. 276
Sub. (1) (c) does not permit closed sessions to consider employment, compensation, promotion, or performance evaluation policies to be applied to a position of employment in general. 80 Atty. Gen. 176
A governmental body may convene in closed session to formulate collective bargaining strategy, but sub. (3) requires that deliberations leading to ratification of a tentative agreement with a bargaining unit, as well as the ratification vote, must be held in open session. 81 Atty. Gen. 139
“Evidentiary hearing" as used in sub. (1) (b), means a formal examination of accusations by receiving testimony or other forms of evidence that may be relevant to the dismissal, demotion, licensing, or discipline of any public employee or person covered by that section. A council that considered a mayor's accusations against an employee in closed session without giving the employee prior notice violated the requirement of actual notice to the employee. Campana v. City of Greenfield, 38 F. Supp. 2d 1043
Closed Session, Open Book: Sifting the Sands Case. Bach. Wis. Law. Oct. 2009.
Closed sessions by ethics or elections commission. 19.851(1)(1)
Prior to convening under this section or under s. 19.85 (1)
, the ethics commission and the elections commission shall vote to convene in closed session in the manner provided in s. 19.85 (1)
. The ethics commission shall identify the specific reason or reasons under sub. (2)
and s. 19.85 (1) (a)
for convening in closed session. The elections commission shall identify the specific reason or reasons under s. 19.85 (1) (a)
for convening in closed session. No business may be conducted by the ethics commission or the elections commission at any closed session under this section except that which relates to the purposes of the session as authorized in this section or as authorized in s. 19.85 (1)
The commission shall hold each meeting of the commission for the purpose of deliberating concerning an investigation of any violation of the law under the jurisdiction of the commission in closed session under this section.
History: 2007 a. 1
; 2015 a. 118
Notice of collective bargaining negotiations.
Notwithstanding s. 19.82 (1)
, where notice has been given by either party to a collective bargaining agreement under subch. I
, or V of ch. 111
to reopen such agreement at its expiration date, the employer shall give notice of such contract reopening as provided in s. 19.84 (1) (b)
. If the employer is not a governmental body, notice shall be given by the employer's chief officer or such person's designee.
This subchapter shall apply to all meetings of the senate and assembly and the committees, subcommittees and other subunits thereof, except that:
shall not apply to any meeting of the legislature or a subunit thereof called solely for the purpose of scheduling business before the legislative body; or adopting resolutions of which the sole purpose is scheduling business before the senate or the assembly.
No provision of this subchapter which conflicts with a rule of the senate or assembly or joint rule of the legislature shall apply to a meeting conducted in compliance with such rule.
No provision of this subchapter shall apply to any partisan caucus of the senate or any partisan caucus of the assembly, except as provided by legislative rule.
Former open meetings law, s. 66.74 (4) (g), 1973 stats., that excepted “partisan caucuses of the members" of the state legislature from coverage of the law applied to a closed meeting of the members of one political party on a legislative committee to discuss a bill. The contention that this exception was only intended to apply to the partisan caucuses of the whole houses would have been supportable if the exception were simply for “partisan caucuses of the state legislature" rather than partisan caucuses of members of the state legislature. State ex rel. Lynch v. Conta, 71 Wis. 2d 662
, 239 N.W.2d 313
In contrast to former s. 66.74 (4) (g), 1973 stats., sub. (3) applies to partisan caucuses of the houses, rather than to caucuses of members of the houses. State ex rel. Newspapers v. Showers, 135 Wis. 2d 77
, 398 N.W.2d 154
Ballots, votes and records. 19.88(1)(1)
Unless otherwise specifically provided by statute, no secret ballot may be utilized to determine any election or other decision of a governmental body except the election of the officers of such body in any meeting.
Except as provided in sub. (1)
in the case of officers, any member of a governmental body may require that a vote be taken at any meeting in such manner that the vote of each member is ascertained and recorded.
The motions and roll call votes of each meeting of a governmental body shall be recorded, preserved and open to public inspection to the extent prescribed in subch. II of ch. 19
History: 1975 c. 426
; 1981 c. 335
The plaintiff newspaper argued that sub. (3), which requires “the motions and roll call votes of each meeting of a governmental body shall be recorded, preserved and open to public inspection," in turn, required the defendant commission to record and disclose the information the newspaper requested under the open records law. The newspaper could not seek relief under the public records law for the commission's alleged violation of the open meetings law and could not recover reasonable attorney fees, damages, and other actual costs under s. 19.37 (2) for an alleged violation of the open meetings law. The Journal Times v. City of Racine Board of Police and Fire Commissioners, 2015 WI 56
, 362 Wis. 2d 577
, 866 N.W.2d 563
Under sub. (1), a common council may not vote to fill a vacancy on the common council by secret ballot. 65 Atty. Gen. 131.
Exclusion of members.
No duly elected or appointed member of a governmental body may be excluded from any meeting of such body. Unless the rules of a governmental body provide to the contrary, no member of the body may be excluded from any meeting of a subunit of that governmental body.
History: 1975 c. 426
Use of equipment in open session.
Whenever a governmental body holds a meeting in open session, the body shall make a reasonable effort to accommodate any person desiring to record, film or photograph the meeting. This section does not permit recording, filming or photographing such a meeting in a manner that interferes with the conduct of the meeting or the rights of the participants.
History: 1977 c. 322
Any member of a governmental body who knowingly attends a meeting of such body held in violation of this subchapter, or who, in his or her official capacity, otherwise violates this subchapter by some act or omission shall forfeit without reimbursement not less than $25 nor more than $300 for each such violation. No member of a governmental body is liable under this subchapter on account of his or her attendance at a meeting held in violation of this subchapter if he or she makes or votes in favor of a motion to prevent the violation from occurring, or if, before the violation occurs, his or her votes on all relevant motions were inconsistent with all those circumstances which cause the violation.
History: 1975 c. 426
The state need not prove specific intent to violate the Open Meetings Law. State v. Swanson, 92 Wis. 2d 310
, 284 N.W.2d 655
This subchapter shall be enforced in the name and on behalf of the state by the attorney general or, upon the verified complaint of any person, by the district attorney of any county wherein a violation may occur. In actions brought by the attorney general, the court shall award any forfeiture recovered together with reasonable costs to the state; and in actions brought by the district attorney, the court shall award any forfeiture recovered together with reasonable costs to the county.