WILL Files Open Meetings Complaint Against Milwaukee County Board

Published on: May 6, 2013

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The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (“WILL”) has filed a complaint asserting that members of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors violated the state open meetings law on two recent occasions.

The first alleged violation occurred during the March 14, 2013, meeting of the Board’s Finance, Personnel, and Audit Committee.  As reported by blogger Aaron Rodriguez, several sources – including a member of the committee and a representative of AFSCME District Council 48 – claim that during a closed portion of that meeting, the Committee authorized a representative to enter into negotiations with the decertified union that formerly represented the majority of county employees.  The complaint challenges the sufficiency of the public notice of that closed session, which failed to adequately apprise the public of the actual topic of discussion or planned action item.

Rick Esenberg, President and General Counsel of WILL, commented on the response of county officials who denied the county Board committee authorized negotiations.  “Either the committee authorized negotiation, in which case the closed meeting notice was inadequate, or they did not authorize negotiation, in which case there were no ‘competitive or bargaining reasons’ justifying a closed session,” Esenberg said.

The second alleged violation occurred during the April 10, 2013, legislative hearing before the State Assembly Committee on Government Operations and State Licensing on Assembly Bill 85, the proposal to reform the structure and powers of the Milwaukee County Board.  Ten members of the Board – a quorum – attended that meeting.  The open meetings law requires that if one governmental entity attends a meeting of another governmental entity, notice of the convening of both entities must be published.  The Board failed to issue any notice that it would be attending the legislative hearing.

The complaint was sent, as required by law, to the Attorney General, the Milwaukee County District Attorney, and the Milwaukee County Corporation Counsel.  If none of those entities files a lawsuit against the Board within 20 days (as is typical, because the Attorney General usually defers to local authorities and local authorities usually claim a lack of resources to bring such cases), we will decide whether to bring a lawsuit ourselves.

“In initiating this action, we hope to clarify state law so officials can’t cloak important public business behind vague legalese,” Esenberg added.

This is the second time in two years that the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty has filed an open meetings complaint against the Milwaukee County Board.  WILL also filed a successful challenge to the Board’s failure to give adequate notice that it was going to approve a decennial redistricting plan.  In that case, Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Jane Carroll determined that the County Board had violated the Open Meetings law and ordered forfeitures against the County Board Chairman and individual members of the Board.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, as always, remains vigilant for any unit of government that does not follow the law, and works to advance the public interest by encouraging governmental units to comply with the letter and spirit of laws designed to inform the electorate and provide the public with complete information regarding the conduct of governmental business.

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