FAQ: Open Meetings Law - Wisconsin
This document provides a summary of the law in this area and answers questions frequently asked of attorneys in the Office of General Counsel. However, the information presented here is intended for informational purposes only and nothing in this document should be construed or relied upon as legal advice. The Office of General Counsel or your Campus Legal Counsel should be consulted regarding the specific facts and circumstances associated with any legal matter.
Does WOML apply to ad hoc or standing committees created
by deans, directors or chancellors to provide administrative advice to
graduate examination committees whose members are asked to serve by their
advisors and students, to interdepartmental committees, or to grant review
A. No, because these committees generally are not created by the formal action of campus bodies. No rule or order of a government body created these committees.
Are all committees formally created
by departments subject to WOML?
A. No. Whether a committee is subject to WOML depends on the committee's function. If you are not sure whether a committee's function would subject its meetings to WOML, you should contact the Office of General Counsel or Campus Legal Counsel.
Are social gatherings, staff meetings
and other informal encounters subject to WOML?
A. No. WOML applies only to gatherings and meetings whose purpose is to conduct the official business of the campus body; WOML specifically excludes social or chance gatherings from its scope. Thus, "brown bag lunches" and academic social functions are not normally subject to WOML, unless those present at the functions attempt to circumvent the law by considering or taking official action on some matter.
Q. If my committee, subunit
or department plans to hold a series of meetings,
may I post a single notice that lists all the meetings
that we plan to hold?
A. No. WOML requires you to provide a separate notice for each meeting at a time and date reasonably close to the meeting date. Wis. Stat, § 19.84 (4).
Is a departmental personnel committee
or tenure review committee that meets to evaluate a
candidate's credentials for promotion and tenure subject
to the requirements of WOML?
A. Yes. Departmental personnel committees and tenure review committees are established under departmental rules (and are thus formally constituted subunits of a campus body), and are subject to WOML.
May matters not included in the chairperson's
announcement preceding a closed session be addressed
at the closed session?
A. No. No business may be conducted in closed session except on matters contained in the meeting notice. Wis. Stat. § 19.85 (1).
Does the order in which a body convenes in open or
closed session make any difference?
A. Yes. A closed session may not precede an open session. WOML requires the body to convene first in open session to approve a motion to convene in closed session. Also, a body may not commence a meeting, convene in closed session and then reconvene in open session within 12 hours after completion of the closed session unless written notice of the subsequent open session was given at the same time and in the same manner as the notice for the initial open session. Wis. Stat. § 19.85 (2).
Must the motion and roll call votes of closed sessions
be recorded, and are they open for public inspection?
A. Yes. The motion and roll call votes must be recorded, regardless of whether they are taken in open or closed session, and they are open to public inspection to the extent disclosure is required under Wisconsin's Public Records Law (WPRL).
Can a citizen record an open meeting?
A. Yes, as long as the recording (video or audio taping) does not disrupt the meeting. Wis. Stat. § 19.90.
Q: Can a government body conduct business via email?
A: The Attorney General discourages government bodies from doing official business via email. Unlike a letter sent through the mail, electronic mail is interactive, more akin to a telephone conversation. An email between two members of a government body regarding business matters can lead to an inadvertent meeting if a quorum of the government body is copied and responds to the rest of the group. However, it is permissible for members of a government body to circulate documents (e.g., agendas, discussion documents) and logistical details via email in preparation for a meeting, as long as the members avoid discussing business matters.