The State of Wisconsin recognizes the importance of having a public informed about governmental affairs. The state’s open meetings law declares that: In recognition of the fact that a representative government of the American type is dependent upon an informed electorate, it is declared to be the policy of this state that the public is entitled to the fullest and most complete information regarding the affairs of government as is compatible with the conduct of governmental business.
In order to advance this policy, the open meetings law requires that “all of all state and local governmental bodies shall be publicly held in places reasonably accessible to members of the public and shall be open to all citizens at all times unless otherwise expressly provided by law.”
There is thus a presumption that meetings of governmental bodies must be held in open session. Although there are some exemptions allowing closed sessions in specified circumstances, they are to be invoked sparingly and only where necessary to protect the public interest. The policy of the open meetings law dictates that governmental bodies convene in closed session only where holding an open session would be incompatible with the conduct of governmental affairs. “Mere government inconvenience is . . . no bar to the requirements of the law.”
The open meetings law explicitly provides that all of its provisions must be liberally construed to achieve its purposes. This rule of liberal construction applies in all situations, except enforcement actions in which forfeitures are sought.
Public officials must be ever mindful of the policy of openness and the rule of liberal construction in order to ensure compliance with both the letter and spirit of the law.