Municipal Law Alert, September 2008
On July 11, 2008, the Wisconsin Supreme Court released its decision in the State of Wisconsin v. Beaver Dam Area Development Corporation, 2008 WI 90 (Case No. 2006AP662). This case may have a significant impact on many Wisconsin municipalities.
The question posed to the Supreme Court was whether the Beaver Dam Area Development Corporation (“Development Corporation”) was subject to Wisconsin’s open meetings and public records law. The Court held that the Development Corporation was a “quasi governmental corporation” and thus was subject to the open meetings and public records laws.
Background: The Development Corporation was a private, non-profit corporation created to promote economic development in and near the City of Beaver Dam. It was funded exclusively by the City. The mayor and another City official sat on the board of directors. The members of the corporation were private citizens appointed by the Development Corporation. Its offices were in City Hall, and it used the city’s clerical staff and equipment and supplies.
The Development Corporation’s position was that it was a private entity, not a “quasi governmental corporation”. It was not formed by the City council, and it operated outside of the control of the City. The Development Corporation further argued that its mission of economic development required flexibility and confidentiality, which would be severely hindered or possibly thwarted if its activities were subject to the same standards of openness required of municipalities.
 The open meetings law provides that meetings of a “governmental body” must be preceded by public notice and held in open session. Wis. Stat. § 19.83. The term “governmental body” is defined to include several specific types of governmental bodies, and also “a governmental or quasi-governmental corporation….” Wis. Stat. § 19.82(1).
 The public records law provides that “[e]xcept as otherwise provided by law, any requester has a right to inspect any record.” Wis. Stat. § 19.35(1). A “record” is defined to include certain kinds of material created or kept by “an authority.” Wis. Stat. § 19.32(2). The term “authority” is defined to include several specific types of governmental officials and bodies, and also “a governmental or quasi-governmental corporation….” Wis. Stat. § 19.32(1).