About the Open Meetings and Public Records Law

The State of Wisconsin recognizes the importance of having a public informed about governmental affairs. The state’s open meetings law declares that:

In recognition of the fact that a representative government of the American type is dependent upon an informed electorate, it is declared to be the policy of this state that the public is entitled to the fullest and most complete information regarding the affairs of government as is compatible with the conduct of governmental business.

When the members of a governmental body (school board) conduct official business while acting separately, without communicating with each other or engaging in other collective action, there is no meeting within the meaning of the open meetings law. Nevertheless, the phrase “convening of members” in Wis. Stat. § 19.82(2) is not limited to situations in which members of a body are simultaneously gathered in the same location, but may also include other situations in which members are able to effectively communicate with each other and to exercise the authority vested in the body, even if they are not physically present together.

The requirements of the open meetings law also extend to walking quorums. 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. Courts have recognized the danger that a walking quorum may produce a predetermined outcome and thus render the publicly-held meeting a mere formality. The Court commented that any attempt to avoid the appearance of a “meeting” through use of a walking quorum is subject to prosecution under the open meetings law. The requirements of the open meetings law thus cannot be circumvented by using an agent or surrogate to poll the members of governmental bodies through a series of individual contacts.

The open meetings law grants citizens the right to attend and observe meetings of governmental bodies that are held in open session. The open meetings law also grants citizens the right to tape record or videotape open session meetings, as long as doing so does not disrupt the meeting. The law explicitly states that a governmental body must make a reasonable effort to accommodate anyone who wants to record, film, or photograph an open session meeting, as long as the activity does not interfere with the meeting.



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