19.81 Annotation A volunteer fire department organized as a nonprofit corporation under s. 213.05 is not subject to the open meeting law. 66 Atty. Gen. 113.
19.81 Annotation Anyone has the right to tape-record an open meeting of a governmental body provided the meeting is not thereby physically disrupted. 66 Atty. Gen. 318.
19.81 Annotation The open meeting law does not apply to a coroner's inquest. 67 Atty. Gen. 250.
19.81 Annotation The open meeting law does not apply if the common council hears a grievance under a collective bargaining agreement. 67 Atty. Gen. 276.
19.81 Annotation Discussing the application of the open meeting law to the duties of WERC. 68 Atty. Gen. 171.
19.81 Annotation A senate committee meeting was probably held in violation of the open meetings law although there was never any intention prior to the gathering to attempt to debate any matter of policy, to reach agreement on differences, to make any decisions on any bill or part thereof, to take any votes, or to resolve substantive differences. Quorum gatherings should be presumed to be in violation of the law, due to a quorum's ability to thereafter call, compose, and control by vote a formal meeting of a governmental body. 71 Atty. Gen. 63.
19.81 Annotation Nonstock corporations created by statute as bodies politic clearly fall within the term “governmental body" as defined in the open meetings law and are subject to the provisions of the open meetings law. Nonstock corporations that were not created by the legislature or by rule, but were created by private citizens, are not bodies politic and not governmental bodies. 73 Atty. Gen. 53.
19.81 Annotation Understanding Wisconsin's Open Meeting Law. Harvey. WBB Sept. 1980.
19.81 Annotation Getting the Best of Both Worlds: Open Government and Economic Development. Westerberg. Wis. Law. Feb. 2009.
19.81 Annotation An Intro to Understanding Wisconsin's Open Meetings Law. Block. Wis. Law. Dec. 2015.
19.82 19.82 Definitions. As used in this subchapter:
19.82(1) (1)“Governmental body" means a state or local agency, board, commission, committee, council, department or public body corporate and politic created by constitution, statute, ordinance, rule or order; a governmental or quasi-governmental corporation except for the Bradley center sports and entertainment corporation; a local exposition district under subch. II of ch. 229; a long-term care district under s. 46.2895; or a formally constituted subunit of any of the foregoing, but excludes any such body or committee or subunit of such body which is formed for or meeting for the purpose of collective bargaining under subch. I, IV, or V of ch. 111.
19.82(2) (2)“Meeting" means the convening of members of a governmental body for the purpose of exercising the responsibilities, authority, power or duties delegated to or vested in the body. If one-half or more of the members of a governmental body are present, the meeting is rebuttably presumed to be for the purpose of exercising the responsibilities, authority, power or duties delegated to or vested in the body. The term does not include any social or chance gathering or conference which is not intended to avoid this subchapter, any gathering of the members of a town board for the purpose specified in s. 60.50 (6), any gathering of the commissioners of a town sanitary district for the purpose specified in s. 60.77 (5) (k), or any gathering of the members of a drainage board created under s. 88.16, 1991 stats., or under s. 88.17, for a purpose specified in s. 88.065 (5) (a).
19.82(3) (3)“Open session" means a meeting which is held in a place reasonably accessible to members of the public and open to all citizens at all times. In the case of a state governmental body, it means a meeting which is held in a building and room thereof which enables access by persons with functional limitations, as defined in s. 101.13 (1).
19.82 Annotation A “meeting" under sub. (2) was found although the governmental body was not empowered to exercise the final powers of its parent body. State v. Swanson, 92 Wis. 2d 310, 284 N.W.2d 655 (1979).
19.82 Annotation A “meeting" under sub. (2) was found when members met with a purpose to engage in government business and the number of members present was sufficient to determine the parent body's course of action regarding the proposal discussed. State ex rel. Newspapers Inc. v. Showers, 135 Wis. 2d 77, 398 N.W.2d 154 (1987).
19.82 Annotation The open meetings law is not meant to apply to single-member governmental bodies. Sub. (2) speaks of a meeting of the members, plural, implying there must be at least two members of a governmental body. Plourde v. Berends, 2006 WI App 147, 294 Wis. 2d 746, 720 N.W.2d 130, 05-2106.
19.82 Annotation 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. Village Board, 173 Wis. 2d 553, 494 N.W.2d 408 (1993).
19.82 Annotation A corporation is quasi-governmental if, based on the totality of circumstances, it resembles a governmental corporation in function, effect, or status, requiring a case-by-case analysis. Here, a primary consideration was that the body was funded exclusively by public tax dollars or interest thereon. Additionally, its office was located in the municipal building, it was listed on the city website, the city provided it with clerical support and office supplies, all its assets revert to the city if it ceases to exist, its books are open for city inspection, the mayor and another city official are directors, and it had no clients other than the city. State v. Beaver Dam Area Development Corp., 2008 WI 90, 312 Wis. 2d 84, 752 N.W.2d 295, 06-0662.
19.82 Annotation A particular group of members of the government compose a governmental body if there is a constitution, statute, ordinance, rule, or order conferring collective power and defining when it exists. To cause a body to exist, the relevant directive must confer upon it the collective responsibilities, authority, power, or duties necessary to a governmental body's existence under the open meetings law. The creation of a governmental body is not triggered merely by any deliberate meetings involving governmental business between two or more officials. Loosely organized, ad hoc gatherings of government employees, without more, do not constitute governmental bodies. Rather, an entity must exist that has the power to take collective action that the members could not take individually. State ex rel. Krueger v. Appleton Area School District Board of Education, 2017 WI 70, 376 Wis. 2d 239, 898 N.W.2d 35, 15-0231.
19.82 Annotation When a governmental entity adopts a rule authorizing the formation of committees and conferring on them the power to take collective action, such committees are created by rule under sub. (1), and the open meetings law applies to them. Here, a school board provided that the review of educational materials should be done according to the board-approved handbook. The handbook, in turn, authorized the formation of committees with a defined membership and the power to review educational materials and make formal recommendations for board approval. Because the committee in question was formed as one of these committees, pursuant to the authority delegated from the board by rule and the handbook, it was created by rule and therefore was a “governmental body" under sub. (1). State ex rel. Krueger v. Appleton Area School District Board of Education, 2017 WI 70, 376 Wis. 2d 239, 898 N.W.2d 35, 15-0231.
19.82 Annotation Under Showers, 135 Wis. 2d 77 (1987), the open meetings law may apply to a walking quorum. A walking quorum is a series of gatherings among separate groups of members of a governmental body, each less than quorum size, who agree, tacitly or explicitly, to act uniformly in sufficient number to reach a quorum. To establish a walking quorum, a plaintiff must prove that members of a governmental body purposefully engaged in discussions of governmental business and that the discussions were held between a sufficient number of members so as to affect the vote. Zecchino v. Dane County, 2018 WI App 19, 380 Wis. 2d 453, 909 N.W.2d 203, 17-0002.
19.82 Annotation A municipal public utility commission managing a city owned public electric utility is a governmental body under sub. (1). 65 Atty. Gen. 243.
19.82 Annotation A “private conference" under s. 118.22 (3) on nonrenewal of a teacher's contract is a “meeting" within sub. (2). 66 Atty. Gen. 211.
19.82 Annotation A private home may qualify as a meeting place under sub. (3). 67 Atty. Gen. 125.
19.82 Annotation A telephone conference call involving members of governmental body is a “meeting" that must be reasonably accessible to the public, and public notice must be given. 69 Atty. Gen. 143.
19.82 Annotation A “quasi-governmental corporation" in sub. (1) includes private corporations that closely resemble governmental corporations in function, effect, or status. 80 Atty. Gen. 129.
19.82 Annotation 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.
19.83 19.83 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.
19.83(2) (2)During a period of public comment under s. 19.84 (2), a governmental body may discuss any matter raised by the public.
19.83 History History: 1975 c. 426; 1997 a. 123.
19.83 Annotation 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. Village Board, 173 Wis. 2d 553, 494 N.W.2d 408 (1993).
19.84 19.84 Public notice.
19.84(1)(1)Public notice of all meetings of a governmental body shall be given in the following manner:
19.84(1)(a) (a) As required by any other statutes; and
19.84(1)(b) (b) 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, 985.05 and 985.06 or, if none exists, to a news medium likely to give notice in the area. Communication from the chief presiding officer of a governmental body or such person's designee shall be made to the public using one of the following methods:
19.84(1)(b)1. 1. Posting a notice in at least 3 public places likely to give notice to persons affected.
19.84(1)(b)2. 2. Posting a notice in at least one public place likely to give notice to persons affected and placing a notice electronically on the governmental body's Internet site.
19.84(1)(b)3. 3. By paid publication in a news medium likely to give notice to persons affected.
19.84(2) (2)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.
19.84(3) (3)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.
19.84(4) (4)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.
19.84(5) (5)Departments and their subunits in any University of Wisconsin System institution or campus are exempt from the requirements of subs. (1) to (4) but shall provide meeting notice which is reasonably likely to apprise interested persons, and news media who have filed written requests for such notice.
19.84(6) (6)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.
19.84 Annotation There is no requirement in this section that the notice provided be exactly correct in every detail. State ex rel. Olson v. City of Baraboo Joint Review Board, 2002 WI App 64, 252 Wis. 2d 628, 643 N.W.2d 796, 01-0201.
19.84 Annotation 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, 01-0201.
19.84 Annotation 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, 05-2998.
19.84 Annotation 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, 11-0613.
19.84 Annotation 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.
19.84 Annotation Discussing the method of giving notice pursuant to sub. (1). 65 Atty. Gen. 250.
19.84 Annotation Discussing the specificity of notice required by a governmental body. 66 Atty. Gen. 143, 195.
19.84 Annotation Discussing the requirements of notice given to newspapers under this section. 66 Atty. Gen. 230.
19.84 Annotation 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.
19.84 Annotation 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.
19.84 Annotation A newspaper is not obligated to print a notice received under sub. (1) (b), nor is a governmental body obligated to pay for publication. Martin v. Wray, 473 F. Supp. 1131 (1979).
19.85 19.85 Exemptions.
19.85(1)(1)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:
19.85(1)(a) (a) Deliberating concerning a case which was the subject of any judicial or quasi-judicial trial or hearing before that governmental body.
19.85(1)(b) (b) 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.
19.85(1)(c) (c) Considering employment, promotion, compensation or performance evaluation data of any public employee over which the governmental body has jurisdiction or exercises responsibility.
19.85(1)(d) (d) 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.
19.85(1)(e) (e) 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.
19.85(1)(ee) (ee) 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.
19.85(1)(eg) (eg) 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.
19.85(1)(em) (em) 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.
19.85(1)(f) (f) 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.
19.85(1)(g) (g) 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.
19.85(1)(h) (h) 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).
19.85(2) (2)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.
19.85(3) (3)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, IV, or V of ch. 111 which has been negotiated by such body or on its behalf.
19.85 Annotation 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).
19.85 Annotation 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).
19.85 Annotation 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 (1993).
19.85 Annotation 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.
19.85 Annotation 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, 06-1143.
19.85 Annotation 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, 06-0427.
19.85 Annotation 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, 06-1929.
19.85 Annotation 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, 05-1026.
19.85 Annotation 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, 19-0096.
19.85 AnnotationReversed on other grounds. 2022 WI 57, 403 Wis. 2d 1, 976 N.W.2d 263, 19-0096.
19.85 Annotation 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.
19.85 Annotation A university subunit may discuss promotions not relating to tenure, merit increases, and property purchase recommendations in closed session. 66 Atty. Gen. 60.
19.85 Annotation 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.
19.85 Annotation 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.
19.85 Annotation 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.
2021-22 Wisconsin Statutes updated through 2023 Wis. Act 71 and through all Supreme Court and Controlled Substances Board Orders filed before and in effect on February 14, 2024. Published and certified under s. 35.18. Changes effective after February 14, 2024, are designated by NOTES. (Published 2-14-24)