66 Op. Att'y Gen. 68 (1977)
 
66 OAG 68  69  70  71  72

OPINION NO. OAG 19-77,

Wisconsin Attorney General Opinions

28 February 1977

Anti-Secrecy;
Open Meeting;
Schools And School Districts;

Where school board permits citizens to appear
at regular meeting and notes fact in agenda
and notice, board may discuss and act on such
matters, if urgent, even though express
subject was not referred to in notice.

There is no requirement that the board
delay the matter until the next meeting,
although nothing would prevent
it from doing so either.

 
66 OAG 68  69  70  71  72

GARY K. JOHNSON State Representative

Pursuant to sec. 19.98, Stats., you request
my advice on two questions under
facts stated below.

You state that the Beloit School Board
utilizes an agenda for its regular meetings
and that a portion of the meeting is devoted
to presentations by "Citizens and
Delegations."

In the past, certain citizens who have been
permitted to speak have requested the board
to act on subjects which were not included in
the matters which the board had included in
its agenda and which the board had given
notice to the public and news media as being
within the stated purpose of the meeting.

On January 7, 1977, the board's attorney
advised that "The basic concept of the open
meeting law is to give notice, in advance,
of the subject matter that will be acted upon
or even discussed," and that "unless extreme
urgency exists, the board may wish to
withhold all discussion or consideration
of a subject presented by a member of the
board or audience so that the subject matter
can be incorporated in a written notice
for a future meeting."

At the February 1, 1977, meeting, the board
refused to permit a delegation of students to
address the board to present a school smoking
proposal and to discuss cheerleading at games
because the subjects were not listed on the
agenda and notice.

The board did receive written proposals on
the smoking proposal and referred it to the
policy committee for consideration at the
March meeting. The board adopted a policy
that citizens or board members wishing to
bring up new items for discussion at meetings
must contact the Superintendent by the Monday
a week prior to the meeting in order to have
the subject included on the agenda.

Your specific questions are:

(1)  Does anything in Subchapter IV of
     Chapter 19, Wis. Stats., prohibit a
     governmental body from receiving at a
     meeting a communication from a citizen
     or group which relates to a matter not
     identified in the notice of that meeting
     which was given under Section 19.84?
 

(2)  Would a governmental body violate
     Subchapter IV of Chapter 19, Wis.
     Stats., by referring to a committee or
     agency, or laying over until the next
     meeting of the body, a matter which was
     not noticed under Section 19.84, but
     which was raised by a member of the
     public at the meeting?

 
66 OAG 68  69  70  71  72

Your two questions may be conveniently
broken into three questions and
answered one at a time.

The first question is whether an agenda
item stating simply "Citizens and
Delegations" is adequate notice
under Section 19.84(2), Stats.

Section 19.84(2), Stats.,
provides as follows:

     Every public notice of a meeting of a
     governmental body shall set forth the
     time, date, place and subject matter of
     the meeting, including that intended for
     consideration at any contemplated closed
     session, in such form as is reasonably
     likely to apprise members of the public
     and the news media thereof.

It is my opinion that an agenda item such
as "Citizens and Delegations" gives adequate
notice to the public of the proposed
subject matter of the meeting.

If time is set aside in the agenda and notice
of the meeting for such matters there is
nothing in Subchapter IV of Chapter 19,
Stats., which would preclude a governmental
body from hearing orderly presentations
even though the express subject matter
has not been included on the agenda
and in the notice of the meeting.

Further, such governmental body could on
motion of a member, discuss and if urgency
required take action on the matter.

My opinion assumes that there is no
conspiracy between the citizen and the
presiding officer to evade the notice
requirements of the open meeting law.

The basic thrust of the open meeting law is
to provide the best notice available to the
public of the nature of the governmental
business which will be conducted.

This policy does not, in my opinion,
require exacting specificity.

Thus, such general designations as
"miscellaneous business" or "such other
matters as may come before the body" are
probably adequate notice to the press and
the public that items not specifically
listed on the agenda may be considered.

I would caution, however, that where the
presiding officer of a governmental body
has specific knowledge that matters may
come before the body, they should be
included on the agenda.

The second question is whether anything in
Subchapter IV of Chapter 19, Stats., requires
that a governmental body delay action on
matters which are not specifically
noticed under Section 19.84, Stats.,
until the next meeting.

 
66 OAG 68  69  70  71  72

The answer to this question is no.

So long as some general notice of the type of
business to be conducted at the meeting is
provided, and the general notice is not a
subterfuge, the governmental body is not
required to refer to committee or delay
action until the next meeting of the body.

The third question is whether a governmental
body has discretion to refer to committee or
delay matters which were generally noticed
under sec. 19.84, Stats., until the next
meeting.

In my opinion, the governmental body
does have such authority.

The fact that meetings are open to the public
does not mean that persons other than board
or committee members have a right to speak
or otherwise participate in meetings.

The degree of participation is a matter for
determination by the governmental agency
except in the case of an adversary proceeding
or hearing required by law in which an
interested party may have special rights.

Wisconsin Constitution Article 1, Sections 3
and 4, and the first amendment to the United
States Constitution protect the right of
freedom of speech and petition to
government for redress of grievances.

These constitutional protections are not
absolute and are subject to reasonable
regulation. Further, they do not mandate
the particular procedure to be followed
by a governmental body.

State v. Swicker,
41 Wis.2d 497,
164 N.W.2d 512 (1969),
appeal dismissed,
396 U.S. 26.

State v. Givens,
28 Wis.2d 109,
135 N.W.2d 780 (1965).

State ex rel. Poole v.
Menomonee Falls,
55 Wis.2d 55,
200 N.W.2d 580 (1972).

An agenda item such as "Citizens and
Delegations" or "Miscellaneous Business"
means only that the governmental body within
its discretion may decide to hear such
matters.

Nothing in the open meeting law or the
Constitution prevents any governmental body
from referring matters on an agenda to a
committee for further study or recommendation
or from adjourning without completing all of
the business contained on the agenda. These
are questions of policy to be resolved
by the governmental body.

The provision of a forum for citizen
participation and some assurance that this
forum is provided on an equal basis to all
interested parties is a particularly
compelling interest to be weighed when
deciding the question of how to proceed
in individual cases on determining
a general policy.

 
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