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FAC 1.B.5. Wisconsin Open Meeting Law.

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(1)   Introduction to Requirements; General Information.

As a public agency, the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh is subject to the state’s open meetings law (19.81 et seq., Wis. Stats.) This law requires advance notice of meetings of the governance organizations and certain University committees; the law also restricts and limits the circumstances under which these "governmental bodies" may meet in closed session. The law is based on the policy that the public right to attend and observe meetings must be respected, consistent with the conduct of governmental business.

Under the Wisconsin Open Meetings Law, committees may conduct a closed meeting (but are not required to meet in closed session) for the purpose of reviewing and voting on the credentials of candidates for renewal. However, in order for a committee to lawfully meet in closed session, all of the following conditions must be satisfied: (1) the committee must provide legally-sufficient public notice of the meeting; (2) the meeting notice must identify the specific subject matter of the anticipated closed session; (3) the meeting notice must also specifically identify the statutory basis that authorizes meeting in closed session; (4) the meeting must start in open session and then properly reconvenes in closed session; and (5) the motion to meet in closed session (and the vote on that motion) must be recorded in the official minutes of the meeting. A closed meeting, therefore, can be held only by specific action of the committee.

Candidates for tenure do have the option of requesting that the committee conduct the evidentiary portion of its hearing in an open meeting. This means that for tenure-year decisions, a closed session may not be held over the objection of the faculty member whose credentials are under review at that meeting. To ensure compliance with the strict and nondiscretionary requirements of this law, the committee chair should make note of the following procedures:

Committee chairs should send notices of all committee meetings to the University News Bureau for possible inclusion within THE BULLETIN. Note: The University now provides a form that can be used to provide public notice of meetings. This form also provides information to facilitate compliance with the open meetings law.

Meeting notices may also be posted on the departmental bulletin board. Notices must be published or posted at least 24 hours in advance of the scheduled meeting. When notices of meetings are sent to the News Bureau or posted announcing a renewal/nonrenewal/tenure meeting, they should also include the statement that it is contemplated that the body will meet in closed session (this statement must also identify the subject matter and the statutory basis of this closed session). In the event a candidate for tenure has requested an open meeting, this should also be indicated in the notice of meeting.

At the meeting, the committee chair should say, "I will now entertain a motion to reconvene in closed session to review credentials and to consider the formation of a recommendation on (renewal/nonrenewal) (tenure)." When a chair entertains this motion to reconvene in closed session, the chair should specifically cite the appropriate sections of the Wisconsin Statutes that authorize this closed meeting [i.e., most likely sections 19.85 (1) (c) and (f)]. The meeting minutes must record the motion as offered and seconded to convene in a closed session. Further, this motion "...shall be carried by majority vote in a manner that the vote of each member is ascertained and recorded in the minutes" (section 19.85). In the event the motion fails, the meeting must be conducted in open session. If the motion passes, the meeting will then be closed, with only members of the committee or individuals invited by the committee being eligible to attend.

Secret ballots may not be cast. Balloting can proceed in the following manner: a show of hands; signed ballots that will be saved and attached to the minutes; or each person’s vote can be recorded in the minutes; or a roll call vote, if requested by a least one member, with each person’s vote recorded in the minutes.

In general, you may not close a meeting and immediately reconvene again in open session. In these instances, section 19.85 (2) applies: "No governmental body may commence a meeting, subsequently convene in closed session and thereafter reconvene again in open session within 12 hours after completion of the closed session, unless public notice of such subsequent open session was given at the same time and in the same manner as the public notice of the meeting convened prior to the closed session."

In the event renewal/nonrenewal involves a tenure decision the chairperson of the committee must inform the candidate in writing of the time and location the meeting will take place. The notice shall include the statement that the individual has the right to request that the evidentiary portion of the meeting be held in open session.

If the individual requests an open meeting, the meeting may not be held in closed session. If the committee will be meeting to consider candidates for renewal (non-tenure-year) and candidates for tenure who have requested an open meeting the agenda must include appropriate notice as to the open and closed sessions of the meeting (and it is recommended that the open session portion of the meeting be held before convening in closed session).

In cases where a decision is made by an individual such as a chairperson, dean, etc., the Open Meetings Law does not apply since an individual does not constitute a "governmental body."

The law requires a minimum 24-hour advance notice of meetings; "unless for good cause such notice is impossible or impractical, in which case [notice as short as two hours may be given]". Meeting notices should be provided to the News Bureau (for listing in the Bulletin), and may be posted on appropriate bulletin boards. Academic departments (and subunits of departments) are exempt from the notification requirements, but the meeting notice must be "reasonably likely to apprise interested persons, and news media who have filed written requests for such notice."

Meetings may only be closed to the public if the notice of meeting includes reference to a contemplated closed session. The grounds for closing a meeting are limited, as set forth in 19.85 (1), Wis. Stats. The statutes also establish a mandatory protocol for closing the meeting.

(2)   Checklist -- Protocol for Meeting in Closed Session.

(a)   The meeting notice must include notice of contemplated closed session (and identify the subject matter of that closed session)

(b)   A motion must be made in open session to convene in closed session.

(c)   The presiding officer must announce:

  1. the nature of the business to be considered in closed session and
  2. the specific exemption(s) claimed to authorize meeting in closed session.

(d)   The announcement of the presiding officer (above) must become a part of the record of the meeting.

(e)   The motion must carry by majority vote and the vote of each member must be ascertained and recorded in the minutes.

(f)    The only business which may be taken up in closed session is that which related to matters contained in the presiding officer’s announcement.

(g)   The statutes do not address the question of whether voting can be done in closed session. The attorney general has opined that voting is permissible in those instances where the vote is an integral part of the reason for meeting in closed session; a decision by the court of appeals raised questions concerning this opinion. Therefore, if the members of a governmental body anticipate a compelling reason to vote in closed session, they should seek legal advice on this issue before that meeting is held.

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