How specific must agenda items be to comply with Wisconsin’s open meetings law? Recent Wisconsin Supreme Court decision provides some guidance.

Municipal Law Alert, July 2007

Municipal clerks frequently struggle with the degree of specificity needed on items listed on meeting agendas. The recent Wisconsin Supreme Court decision in State ex rel. Buswell v. Tomah Area School District cited Wis. Stat. Sec. 19.84(2) for the proposition that the listing must be sufficiently specific to be reasonably likely to apprise the public of the subject matter of the meeting.” In Buswell, a private citizen sued the Tomah School District for alleged violations of Wisconsin’s open meetings law. The citizen alleged that the District did not provide adequate notice that it would be considering the Tomah Education Association’s master contract at its meeting of June 1, 2004. The citizen further alleged that the District did not provide adequate notice that it would be considering a new hiring procedure for coaches as part of the master contract at two meetings – the June 1, 2004, meeting and a second meeting on June 15, 2004.

What the agendas at issue in Buswell stated:

June 1 agenda: “Contemplated closed session for consideration and/or action concerning employment/negotiations with District personnel pursuant to Wis. Stat. Sec. 19.85(1)(c).”

What the Supreme Court held: The Court decided this listing was vague because it could cover negotiations with any group of District personnel or with any individual employee within the School District. The Court further decided this wording was misleading, because the cited section of the Wisconsin Statutes deals with issues with individual employees, and does not include collective bargaining agreements – which was the issue at hand. The correct statutory reference should have been Sec. 19.85(1)(e). Because the Court found the notice vague and misleading, the Court held that it was not “reasonably likely to apprise members of the public” of the actual subject matter – the Teacher Education Association master contract. The June 1 meeting notice was therefore found to be deficient.

June 15 agenda: “TEA Employee Contract Approval.”

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