I’ve heard the terms “walking quorum ” and “negative quorum.” What do they mean?

Open Meetings Law

Q: I’ve heard the terms “walking quorum ” and “negative quorum.” What do they mean?

A: A walking quorum is a series of meetings, telephone conferences, or some other means of communication such that groups of less than a quorum are effectively meeting and can arrive at a consensus or understanding regarding governmental business that, collectively, would constitute a quorum. The Open Meetings Law applies to such “walking quorums” that are used to evade the requirements of the Open Meetings Law. See State ex rel. Newspapers, Inc. v. Showers, 135 Wis. 2d 77, 92, 398 N.W.2d 154 (1987).

The walking quorum rule potentially applies to email correspondence as well, particularly with the “reply all” and “forward” features. For this reason, the Attorney General discourages “the members of every governmental body from using electronic mail to communicate about issues within the body’s realm of authority.” Wisconsin Department of Justice, Wisconsin Open Meetings Law: A Compliance Guide 7 (2005).

A negative quorum is a sufficient number of members to determine a governmental body’s course of action if the group votes as a block. If enough members are present to block action by the body on an issue that requires a super-majority — over-riding a veto, for example — then there is a negative quorum. Negative quorums may trigger the open meeting law. State ex rel. Newspapers, Inc. v. Showers, 135 Wis. 2d 77, 91-92, 398 N.W.2d 154 (1987). If challenged, however, the burden to prove an open meetings violation by a negative quorum, like the burden to prove a walking quorum, is on the party alleging a violation. Id. at 102.

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