Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council

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A county board went into a closed session meeting last night, and I'm interested in finding out what it discussed. How can I do that?

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Q: A county board went into a closed session meeting last night, and I'm interested in finding out what it discussed. How can I do that?

A: You are free to call the individual board members and try to get them to talk to you. There is nothing in the state Open Meetings Law that prohibits them from speaking with you after the session is over. Sometimes, the reason for confidentiality has passed and people will share information. Other times, they cannot. You also may file an open records request for the minutes of the meeting. The fact that the meeting was held in closed session does not preclude public access to the minutes. Section 19.88(3), Stats., requires that motions and roll call votes be recorded and available for public inspection. However, motions are typically phrased to conceal the confidential information that justified closing the meeting.

Disclaimer: The Frequently Asked Questions and Answers on the Wisconsin FOIC website are provided by Godfrey & Kahn, S.C. (LaFollette Godfrey & Kahn is the Madison office of Godfrey & Kahn, S.C.).

The information provided on this website is a service to the general public. The information provided is not legal advice. Do not act on this information without the advice of professional legal counsel, who must evaluate the facts of your situation in light of current laws before giving you legal advice.

Your use of this web site does not create an attorney-client relationship with our firm, Godfrey & Kahn, S.C., or with any of our attorneys. Please contact us directly if you would like to retain our firm as your legal counsel, www.gklaw.com. But do not send us confidential information until you have spoken with one of our attorneys. Before we can represent you, we must determine that no conflict of interest or other situation would prevent us from representing you. Our representation begins only after we complete our evaluation and agree in writing to represent you.

 

Are electronic records subject to the Open Records Law?

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Q: Are electronic records subject to the Open Records Law?

A: Yes. Electronic records are subject to the Open Records Law under section 19.32(2), Stats. Where a record originated, and where or how it is stored, does not affect the public's right of access. For example, if a public official conducts public business using her home computer, her emails and records concerning government business are still subject to the Open Records Law - even if she stores them on her home computer. See Attorney General, Wisconsin Department of Justice, Wisconsin Public Records Law: Wis. Stat. §§ 19.31-19.39 Compliance Outline 26-31 (2005).

Disclaimer: The Frequently Asked Questions and Answers on the Wisconsin FOIC website are provided by Godfrey & Kahn, S.C. (LaFollette Godfrey & Kahn is the Madison office of Godfrey & Kahn, S.C.).

The information provided on this website is a service to the general public. The information provided is not legal advice. Do not act on this information without the advice of professional legal counsel, who must evaluate the facts of your situation in light of current laws before giving you legal advice.

Your use of this web site does not create an attorney-client relationship with our firm, Godfrey & Kahn, S.C., or with any of our attorneys. Please contact us directly if you would like to retain our firm as your legal counsel, www.gklaw.com. But do not send us confidential information until you have spoken with one of our attorneys. Before we can represent you, we must determine that no conflict of interest or other situation would prevent us from representing you. Our representation begins only after we complete our evaluation and agree in writing to represent you.

 

Can a governmental body vote in closed session? If so, how can I get access to those votes?

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Q: Can a governmental body vote in closed session? If so, how can I get access to those votes?

A: Yes, a governmental body can vote in closed session under certain circumstances. "A governmental body can vote to take action on matters discussed at a closed session if such action is an integral part of the reason for which the permitted closed session was convened." 66 Wis. Op. Att'y Gen. 93, 97 (1977) (OAG 26-77); see State ex. rel. Cities Service Oil Co. v. Board of Appeals, 21 Wis. 2d 516, 124 N.W.2d 809 (1963); 67 Wis. Op. Att'y Gen. 117 (1978) (OAG 24-78). See section 19.85(1) for a list of the "exemptions" allowing the governmental body to close sessions and see previous question regarding access to those votes.

Disclaimer: The Frequently Asked Questions and Answers on the Wisconsin FOIC website are provided by Godfrey & Kahn, S.C. (LaFollette Godfrey & Kahn is the Madison office of Godfrey & Kahn, S.C.).

The information provided on this website is a service to the general public. The information provided is not legal advice. Do not act on this information without the advice of professional legal counsel, who must evaluate the facts of your situation in light of current laws before giving you legal advice.

Your use of this web site does not create an attorney-client relationship with our firm, Godfrey & Kahn, S.C., or with any of our attorneys. Please contact us directly if you would like to retain our firm as your legal counsel, www.gklaw.com. But do not send us confidential information until you have spoken with one of our attorneys. Before we can represent you, we must determine that no conflict of interest or other situation would prevent us from representing you. Our representation begins only after we complete our evaluation and agree in writing to represent you.

 

I sent an open records request more than a week ago and I haven't received a response. What should I do?

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Q: I sent an open records request more than a week ago and I haven't received a response. What should I do?

A: It is mandatory for a custodian to respond to your open records request "as soon as practicable and without delay." Sec. 19.35(4)(a), Stats. While the law does not require a response within a specified period of time, the length of time for a response will depend on the nature and the size of the request. See Wisconsin Department of Justice, Wisconsin Public Records Law: Wis. Stat. §§ 19.31-19.39 Compliance Outline 9 (2005). For example, responses to requests for microfilm or microfiche records may take longer than requests for hard-copy documents. If you have not received a response within a reasonable time, contact the custodian to determine whether your request was received and verify when you can expect a response consistent with the statutory guidelines. The Open Records Law provides a remedy for unreasonable "delay" in granting access to a record, as well as for improper denial of access. Sec. 19.37(1), Stats.

Disclaimer: The Frequently Asked Questions and Answers on the Wisconsin FOIC website are provided by Godfrey & Kahn, S.C. (LaFollette Godfrey & Kahn is the Madison office of Godfrey & Kahn, S.C.).

The information provided on this website is a service to the general public. The information provided is not legal advice. Do not act on this information without the advice of professional legal counsel, who must evaluate the facts of your situation in light of current laws before giving you legal advice.

Your use of this web site does not create an attorney-client relationship with our firm, Godfrey & Kahn, S.C., or with any of our attorneys. Please contact us directly if you would like to retain our firm as your legal counsel, www.gklaw.com. But do not send us confidential information until you have spoken with one of our attorneys. Before we can represent you, we must determine that no conflict of interest or other situation would prevent us from representing you. Our representation begins only after we complete our evaluation and agree in writing to represent you.

 

Do public bodies that meet in closed session then have to vote in open session?

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Q: Do public bodies that meet in closed session then have to vote in open session?

A: It's not clear because the case law is inconclusive. The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that Wis. Stat. § 14.90 (1959), a predecessor to the current open meetings law, authorized a governmental body to vote in closed session on matters that were the legitimate subject of deliberation in closed session. State ex rel. Cities S. O. Co. v. Bd. of Appeals, 21 Wis. 2d 516, 538, 124 N.W.2d 809 (1963). The supreme court reasoned that "voting is an integral part of deliberating and merely formalizes the result reached in the deliberating process."

A subsequent state appellate court case -- State ex rel. Schaeve v. Van Lare, 125 Wis.2d 40, 370 N.W.2d 271 (Ct.App.1985) -- made no reference to this earlier Supreme Court ruling but commented on the propriety of voting in closed session under the current open meetings law. The court indicated that a governmental body must vote in open session unless an exemption in Wis. Stat. § 19.85(1) expressly authorizes voting in closed session. The court's statement was not essential to its holding and it is unclear whether the supreme court would adopt a similar interpretation of the current open meetings law.

Given this uncertainty, the Attorney General advises that a governmental body vote in open session, unless the vote is clearly an integral part of deliberations authorized to be conducted in closed session under Wis. Stat. § 19.85(1). Stated another way, a governmental body should vote in open session, unless doing so would compromise the need for the closed session. Accord, Epping, 218 Wis. 2d at 524 n.4 (even if deliberations were conducted in an unlawful closed session, a subsequent vote taken in open session could not be voided). None of the exemptions in Wis. Stat. § 19.85(1) authorize a governmental body to consider in closed session the ratification or final approval of a collective bargaining agreement negotiated by or for the body. Wis. Stat. § 19.85(3); 81 Op. Att'y Gen. 139.

Disclaimer: The Frequently Asked Questions and Answers on the Wisconsin FOIC website are provided by Godfrey & Kahn, S.C. (LaFollette Godfrey & Kahn is the Madison office of Godfrey & Kahn, S.C.).

The information provided on this website is a service to the general public. The information provided is not legal advice. Do not act on this information without the advice of professional legal counsel, who must evaluate the facts of your situation in light of current laws before giving you legal advice.

Your use of this web site does not create an attorney-client relationship with our firm, Godfrey & Kahn, S.C., or with any of our attorneys. Please contact us directly if you would like to retain our firm as your legal counsel, www.gklaw.com. But do not send us confidential information until you have spoken with one of our attorneys. Before we can represent you, we must determine that no conflict of interest or other situation would prevent us from representing you. Our representation begins only after we complete our evaluation and agree in writing to represent you.

 
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