This document explains how to comply with Wisconsin's Open Meetings law.
The Wisconsin open meetings statute provides that every "meeting" of a "governmental body" must be preceded by public notice and must be held in "open session" unless a closed session is authorized by statute for consideration of certain sensitive matters.
In addition, no ballot or vote at these meetings may be secret.
The Office of Legal Affairs has prepared a set of "Frequently Asked Questions" concerning compliance with Wisconsin Open Meetings Law. This site explains that departmental faculties and executive committees, and many other faculty or departmental committees created by state statute or university rule and order are covered by the open meeting requirements.
Ad hoc or standing committees created by deans, directors, or department chairs to advise them as administrators are generally not governmental bodies and are thus not covered by these requirements. The guidelines also provide useful explanations of the Open Meetings Law definition of "meeting," "open session" and grounds and procedures for holding "closed session."
How to provide notice
Departments can meet the requirement of public notice by posting a notice on a departmental bulletin board. Notice must usually be at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting and must state time, date, place, and subject matter of the meeting.
Notice is also required for closed meetings (for consideration of personnel matters, for example), and there are steps outlined for convening in closed session. Posting this information on a "conspicuous" departmental bulletin board to which students, staff and faculty have access is "generally sufficient". Please refer to the FAQs for specific situations under which committee may convene in closed session, as well as procedures for convening in closed session.
Although further posting of departmental meetings is not required, departments may wish to file notice with the Office of the Secretary of the Faculty (2-3956); notice may be filed online, using a form made available by the Office the Secretary of the Faculty.
The FAQs include information on ballots, votes, and records. A show of hands or voice vote is not a secret ballot. Paper ballots must bear some identifying characteristic (e.g., name), and the contents of the ballot, individual's name, and vote totals must be recorded in meeting minutes.
For votes taken by voice or show of hands, only the total number voting each way must be recorded; however, a "roll-call" vote must be taken if requested by any member of the body.
Rules of procedure are not altered by the fact that a meeting is open. Open sessions provide an opportunity to observe, not to participate, unless the body specifically authorizes non-members to speak.
While an "open" meeting may be held by telephone conference calls as long as the speaker is "reasonably accessible to the public and proper notice has been given," e-mail does not afford the public similar access, and may not be used as a substitute for a meeting. (See the FAQ section, "What does it mean to conduct a meeting in an 'open session?'" for the full statement on this point.)
For More Information
Consult the Office of Legal Affairs at 263-7400.