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.
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.