66 Op. Att'y Gen. 195 (1977)
 
66 OAG 195 196 197 198

OPINION NO. OAG 54-77,

Wisconsin Attorney General Opinions

29 June 1977

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

Specificity of notice required by
governmental body where agenda
item includes item
"Citizens and Delegations,"
cross reference

66 OAG 68 (1977).

GEORGE BLAKELY, Attorney, City of Beloit

Pursuant to sec. 19.98, Stats., you request
to be advised with respect to four questions
concerned with notice requirements under the
open meeting law.

You are particularly concerned with
interpretations of the law contained in
66 OAG 68 (1977), which involved the
school district for which you
serve as legal counsel.

That opinion dealt with the use of the
phrase "Citizens and Delegations,"
which was one of many agenda items.

The opinion does not state that a board may
utilize such phrase as the single or all
inclusive notice to conduct the regular
business of the board.

The opinion states the law requires that the
public notice be as specific as possible.

It is presumed that school board members as
public officers will act in good faith to
comply with the law to the best of their
abilities and will not knowingly
attempt to evade provisions of the law.

The board is not required to utilize
a citizen input period at regular
board meetings.

In general, the degree of citizen
participation is for board determination.

The agenda item the board has utilized,
"Citizens and Delegations,"
is broad and is an invitation to allow
citizen input on any subject within
jurisdiction of the board.

Whether the board may wish to utilize a more
restrictive item or otherwise legally limit
citizen participation by requiring the
citizen to timely notify the board of the
intended subject matter so that more specific
notice may be given is a matter within the
discretion of the board.

Where request for advice is made pursuant to
sec. 19.98, Stats., this office attempts to
be constructive in aid of assuring compliance
with the open meeting law.

The office does not intend to mandate the
manner in which the business of a
governmental body must be conducted.

The law sets forth minimum requirements as
far as public notice is concerned.

 
66 OAG 195 196 197 198

A governmental body may give more extensive
notice than is required by statute.

Opinions from this office are usually based
on a given set of facts and, where the open
meeting law is concerned, often determine
whether there has been compliance with the
law.

The fact that an opinion states that there
has been minimal compliance with the law
should not be utilized by governmental bodies
to pattern their procedures according
to the minimal procedure referred to.

Governmental bodies should attempt to comply
with both the letter and spirit of the law.

It is prudent for governmental bodies
to seek and rely upon the advice of
their own attorneys where questions
of compliance are involved.

As attorney for the school district,
this responsibility is yours and
cannot be shifted to this office.

The school board is in need of advice on a
continuing basis and such advice must be
conditioned on the material facts then
and there existing.

I will further attempt to answer your
questions with respect to 66 OAG 68 (1977),
although some are argumentative in nature and
others are fully treated in the opinion.

1.   Is the item in the publicly-noticed
     agenda, "Citizens and Delegations,"
     sufficient to apprise members of the
     public and news media of any subject
     matter that a citizen's delegation
     may bring up at such meeting?

The answer is "yes," if the subject matter
is within the jurisdiction of the board.

If the matter is one of importance or of wide
public interest, it would be prudent for the
board to reserve discussion or action until
a subsequent meeting for which more
specific notice can be given.

The board, in such case, may wish to
refer the matter to a committee or
invite further citizen input.

Please also refer to the discussion in
paragraphs two and three of this letter.

2.   May a citizen and board member, other
     than the presiding officer, arrange or
     conspire to evade the notice requirement
     by the use of the agenda item

     "Citizens and Delegations" ?

The answer is "no."

The board should provide that members
wishing to introduce matters, timely
advise the presiding officer so that
full public notice can be given.

It is within the discretion of the board
whether citizens shall be required to notify
the presiding officer of the specific subject
matter involved in their appearance, so that
timely, specific notice may be given.

 
66 OAG 195 196 197 198

The opinion referred to stated that, where
the agenda item "Citizens and Delegations"
was utilized and a citizen raised an issue
which was not treated by express language in
the agenda, the "governmental body could on
motion of a member, discuss and if urgency
required take action on the matter."

3.   Is urgency ever required
     before action can be taken?

The answer is "no."

But see answer to Question No. 1 as to
prudent procedure for the board to follow.

Urgency may in part justify the taking of
immediate action. It is impossible to set
forth standards to determine when a matter is
urgent which would apply to all situations.

You inquire:

4.   How is a forum provided on an equal
     basis for persons not in attendance,
     although interested in the subject,
     where the item, "Citizens and
     Delegations" is utilized?
 

The opinion referred to does not advocate
the use of the agenda item, "Citizens and
Delegations," with respect to providing
a forum for citizen input.

Where such an item is used, and public notice
is given, it does inform the public and news
media that citizens and delegations may bring
matters within the jurisdiction of the board
to the attention of the board and gives them
an apparent right to be present, hear any
petitions made and to make appearances
themselves.

The item was evidently used by the presiding
officer with the approval of the board.
 

As stated in paragraphs two and three of this
letter, the board may wish to utilize some
other item or procedure to provide a forum
on a more equal and specifically publicized
basis.

BCL:RJV


 
66 OAG 195 196 197 198