Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council

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Open meeting controversy

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Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council weighs in on open meeting controversy

On Thursday, March 10, at 10:50 a.m., Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council President Bill Lueders issued the following statement:

I have been asked whether the Wisconsin FOIC has a position on last night's action by the state Legislature. As you know, I am not a lawyer and do not play one on TV. These are difficult issues to parse. But a few points can be made:

The Open Meetings Law, at 19.84(3), states: "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."

There is no dispute that yesterday's meeting was not noticed 24 hours in advance and I see no way it could be argued that giving 24 hours notice was "impossible or inpractical," three weeks into a budget stalemate. There is also some question as to whether a full two hours notice was given, in that it was arguably not posted in a location to which media and others have unfettered access. The Assembly Dems say they did were not notified until 4:10 pm, and the Senate meeting purportedly began at 6 pm.

The Senate Chief Clerk, Robert Marchant, has advanced the argument that the notice was sufficient under Senate Rule 93, which holds that the Senate can convene in special session without giving advanced notice. Others have pointed out that this rule pertains to the Senate, whereas last night's meeting was a Joint Committee of Conference, a.k.a. Joint Conference Committee. They say Rule 93 would not apply in such a case.

The council’s position is that, whether or not a viable legal challenge can be brought, this action merits the condemnation of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council as contrary to the spirit, at least, of the Open Meetings Law, as well as to the state's traditions of openness.

We believe the meeting was hastily convened without adequate public notice because the people convening it felt they needed an element of surprise to prevail -- making it precisely the sort of action the state's Open Meetings Law was intended to preclude.

Bill Lueders
President, Wisconsin FOIC
(608) 251-5627