When can a governmental body close a meeting to discuss compensation issues?

Open Meetings Law

Q: When can a governmental body close a meeting to discuss compensation issues?

A: The Open Meetings Law does not apply to collective bargaining negotiations. The definition of “governmental body” in section 19.82(1), Stats., excludes “any such body or committee or subunit of such body which is formed for or meeting for the purpose of collective bargaining.” Once a tentative agreement has been reached, however, section 19.85(3), Stats., requires that a governmental body conduct its discussions and deliberations regarding ratification of the collective bargaining agreement in open session. See 81 Wis. Op. Att’y Gen. 139 (1994) (OAG 7-94).

With respect to non-unionized public employees, section 19.85(1)(c), Stats., authorizes a governmental body to meet in closed session to consider, “employment, promotion, compensation or performance evaluation data of any public employee over which the governmental body has jurisdiction or exercises responsibility.” This exemption does not apply to discussions of compensation for elected officials, because they are not public employees over which a governmental body has jurisdiction.

The Attorney General also has noted that the purpose of the exemption is to protect the public employee whose compensation or performance is being considered, not to protect the governmental body. “Thus, in order to protect the public’s right to information about the conduct of governmental business, the personnel exemption must be narrowly construed to apply only when a governmental body is discussing the employment, promotion, compensation or performance evaluation of a employe[e] or employe[e]s.” 80 Wis. Op. Att’y Gen. 176, 180-81 (1992) (OAG 5-92) (emphasis added). Applying this principle, a governmental body may close a meeting to discuss merit-based raises for specific employees, but may not close a meeting to discuss general across-the-board increases for non-unionized employees.

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