Wisconsin State Statute 19.81 – Open Meetings of Governmental Bodies


19.81 Declaration of policy.
(1) 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.
(2) To implement and ensure the public policy herein expressed, all meetings 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.
(3) In conformance with article IV, section 10, of the constitution, which states that the doors of each house shall remain open, except when the public welfare requires secrecy, it is declared to be the intent of the legislature to comply to the fullest extent with this subchapter.
(4) This subchapter shall be liberally construed to achieve the purposes set forth in this section, and the rule that penal statutes must be strictly construed shall be limited to the enforcement of forfeitures and shall not otherwise apply to actions brought under this subchapter or to interpretations thereof.
NOTE: The following annotations relate to s. 66.77, repealed by Chapter 426, laws of 1975.
Subsequent to the presentation of evidence by the taxpayer, a board of review’s consideration of testimony by the village assessor at an executive session was contrary to the open meeting law. Although it was permissible for the board to convene a closed session for the purpose of deliberating after a quasi-judicial hearing, the proceedings did not constitute mere deliberations but were a continuation of the quasi-judicial hearing without the presence of or notice to the objecting taxpayer. Dolphin v. Butler Board of Review, 70 Wis. 2d 403, 234 N.W.2d 277 (1975).
The open meeting law is not applicable to the judicial commission. State ex rel. Lynch v. Dancey, 71 Wis. 2d 287, 238 N.W.2d 81 (1976).
A regular open meeting, held subsequent to a closed meeting on another subject, does not constitute a reconvened open meeting when there was no prior open meeting on that day. 58 Atty. Gen. 41.
Consideration of a resolution is a formal action of an administrative or minor governing body and when taken in proper closed session, the resolution and result of the vote must be made available for public inspection, pursuant to 19.21, absent a specific showing that the public interest would be adversely affected. 60 Atty. Gen. 9.
Joint apprenticeship committees, appointed pursuant to Wis. Adm. Code provisions, are governmental bodies and subject to the requirements of the open meeting law. 63 Atty. Gen. 363.
Voting procedures employed by worker’s compensation and unemployment advisory councils that utilized adjournment of public meeting for purposes of having members representing employers and members representing employees or workers to separately meet in closed caucuses and to vote as a block on reconvening was contrary to the open records law. 63 Atty. Gen. 414.
A governmental body can call closed sessions for proper purposes without giving notice to members of the news media who have filed written requests. 63 Atty. Gen. 470.
The meaning of “communication” is discussed with reference to giving the public and news media members adequate notice. 63 Atty. Gen. 509.
The posting in the governor’s office of agenda of future investment board meetings is not sufficient communication to the public or the news media who have filed a written request for notice. 63 Atty. Gen. 549.
A county board may not utilize an unidentified paper ballot in voting to appoint a county highway commissioner, but may vote by ayes and nays or show of hands at an open session if some member does not require the vote to be taken in such manner that the vote of each member may be ascertained and recorded. 63 Atty. Gen. 569.
NOTE: The following annotations refer to ss. 19.81 to 19.98.
When the city of Milwaukee and a private non-profit festival organization incorporated the open meetings law into a contract, the contract allowed public enforcement of the contractual provisions concerning open meetings. Journal/Sentinel, Inc. v. Pleva, 155 Wis. 2d 704, 456 N.W.2d 359 (1990).
Sub. (2) requires that a meeting be held in a facility that gives reasonable public access, not total access. No person may be systematically excluded or arbitrarily refused admittance. State ex rel. Badke v. Greendale Village Bd. 173 Wis. 2d 553, 494 N.W.2d 408 (1993).
This subchapter is discussed. 65 Atty. Gen. preface.
Public notice requirements for meetings of a city district school board under this subchapter and s. 120.48, 1983 stats., are discussed. 66 Atty. Gen. 93.
A volunteer fire department organized as a nonprofit corporation under s. 213.05 is not subject to the open meeting law. 66 Atty. Gen. 113.
Anyone has the right to tape-record an open meeting of a governmental body provided the meeting is not thereby physically disrupted. 66 Atty. Gen. 318.
The open meeting law does not apply to a coroner’s inquest. 67 Atty. Gen. 250.
The open meeting law does not apply if the common council hears a grievance under a collective bargaining agreement. 67 Atty. Gen. 276.
The application of the open meeting law to the duties of WERC is discussed. 68 Atty. Gen. 171.
A senate committee meeting was probably held in violation of the open meetings law although there was never any intention prior to the gathering to attempt to debate any matter of policy, to reach agreement on differences, to make any decisions on any bill or part thereof, to take any votes, or to resolve substantive differences. Quorum gatherings should be presumed to be in violation of the law, due to a quorum’s ability to thereafter call, compose and control by vote a formal meeting of a governmental body. 71 Atty. Gen. 63.
Nonstock corporations created by statute as bodies politic clearly fall within the term “governmental body” as defined in the open meetings law and are subject to the provisions of the open meetings law. Nonstock corporations that were not created by the legislature or by rule, but were created by private citizens are not bodies politic and not governmental bodies. 73 Atty. Gen. 53.
Understanding Wisconsin’s open meeting law. Harvey, WBB September 1980.
Getting the Best of Both Worlds: Open Government and Economic Development. Westerberg. Wis. Law. Feb. 2009.
An Intro to Understanding Wisconsin’s Open Meetings Law. Block. Wis. Law. Dec. 2015.

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