Municipal Law Alert, May 2010
Does the published agenda for your municipal meeting comply with the legal requirements? Maybe not.
The purpose of an agenda in Robert’s Rules of Order is to provide for an organized and predictable order of business and, if included with the advance notice of the meeting, to give the participants an opportunity to prepare for the topics to be discussed. Although those concepts apply to a governing body agenda, they are not sufficient to analyze the adequacy of a municipal agenda. Government bodies have to follow Wisconsin’s Open Meeting Law. That changes everything.
The Open Meeting statute opens with a declaration of policy that provides, 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 government business.
Wis. Stat. § 19.81(1).
In order to promote public awareness of the affairs of government, the law requires that the agenda for a public meeting be published in advance and that it contain enough information to alert the citizenry of the matters to be addressed at the meeting. The specific statute provides,
Every public notice of a meeting of a governmental body shall set for the time, date, place and subject matter of the meeting, including that intended for consideration any contemplated closed session, in such form as is reasonably likely to apprise members of the public and the news media thereof.
Wis. Stat. § 19.84(2).
For our analysis here, the operative words are that the posted and published agenda must be in such form as is reasonably likely to apprise members of the public and the news media thereof. That means that the notice should be as specific as possible. A good test would be to ask whether John Q. Citizen would understand what is going to be discussed and make a rational informed decision about whether he should attend the meeting. If a reasonable citizen would not be able to read the agenda and determine whether or not it relates to an item of interest, then the agenda is probably legally defective.