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).
Discussing the balance between protection of reputation under sub. (1) (f) and the public interest in openness. Wisconsin 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. State ex rel. Hodge v. Town of 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
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
. Zellner v. Cedarburg School District, 2007 WI 53
, 300 Wis. 2d 290
, 731 N.W.2d 240
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
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. Whitnall School District, 2008 WI 89
, 312 Wis. 2d 1
, 754 N.W.2d 439
Sub. (1) (e) can be invoked to prevent disclosure of a negotiation strategy or other insider information that is not available to one party in a negotiation. Sub. (1) (e) cannot, however, be invoked merely because a private entity desires confidentiality; because the public will later have the opportunity to provide input; or to prevent competition when the other side remains free to negotiate with potential competitors. In addition, there are public policy reasons why sub. (1) (e) should not generally be used to prevent competition among governmental entities, as this could harm both consumers and those citizens interested in the workings of their government. Friends of Frame Park, U.A. v. City of Waukesha, 2020 WI App 61
, 394 Wis. 2d 387
, 950 N.W.2d 831
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 Inc. 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. Journal Times v. City of Racine Board of Police & 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.
In addition and supplementary to the remedy provided in s. 19.96
, the attorney general or the district attorney may commence an action, separately or in conjunction with an action brought under s. 19.96
, to obtain such other legal or equitable relief, including but not limited to mandamus, injunction or declaratory judgment, as may be appropriate under the circumstances.
Any action taken at a meeting of a governmental body held in violation of this subchapter is voidable, upon action brought by the attorney general or the district attorney of the county wherein the violation occurred. However, any judgment declaring such action void shall not be entered unless the court finds, under the facts of the particular case, that the public interest in the enforcement of this subchapter outweighs any public interest which there may be in sustaining the validity of the action taken.
If the district attorney refuses or otherwise fails to commence an action to enforce this subchapter within 20 days after receiving a verified complaint, the person making such complaint may bring an action under subs. (1)
on his or her relation in the name, and on behalf, of the state. In such actions, the court may award actual and necessary costs of prosecution, including reasonable attorney fees to the relator if he or she prevails, but any forfeiture recovered shall be paid to the state.
Judicial Council Note, 1981: Reference in sub. (2) to a “writ" of mandamus has been removed because that remedy is now available in an ordinary action. See s. 781.01, stats., and the note thereto. [Bill 613-A]
Awards of attorney fees are to be at a rate applicable to private attorneys. A court may review the reasonableness of the hours and hourly rate charged, including the rates for similar services in the area, and may in addition consider the peculiar facts of the case and the responsible party's ability to pay. State ex rel. Hodge v. Town of Turtle Lake, 190 Wis. 2d 181
, 526 N.W.2d 784
(Ct. App. 1994).
Actions brought under the open meetings and open records laws are exempt from the notice provisions of s. 893.80. State ex rel. Auchinleck v. Town of LaGrange, 200 Wis. 2d 585
, 547 N.W.2d 587
Failure to bring an action under this section on behalf of the state is fatal and deprives the court of competency to proceed. Fabyan v. Achtenhagen, 2002 WI App 214
, 257 Wis. 2d. 310, 652 N.W.2d 649
Complaints under the open meetings law are not brought in the individual capacity of the plaintiff but on behalf of the state, subject to the two-year statute of limitations under s. 893.93 (2). State ex rel. Leung v. City of Lake Geneva, 2003 WI App 129
, 265 Wis. 2d 674
, 666 N.W.2d 104
When a town board's action was voided by the court due to lack of statutory authority, an action for enforcement under sub. (4) by an individual as a private attorney general on behalf of the state against individual board members for a violation of the open meetings law that would subject the individual board members to civil forfeitures was not rendered moot. State ex rel. Lawton v. Town of Barton, 2005 WI App 16
, 278 Wis. 2d 388
, 692 N.W.2d 304
Interpretation by attorney general.
Any person may request advice from the attorney general as to the applicability of this subchapter under any circumstances.
History: 1975 c. 426