66 Op. Att'y Gen. 254 (1977)
 
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Wisconsin Attorney General Opinions

Opinion # OAG 72-77

24 August 1977.

Newspapers; Open Meeting;
Schools And School Districts;

The presence of more than one-half of the
members of a governmental body in one place
presumptively creates a meeting within the
meaning of the open meeting law, but the
presumption is rebuttable and it is necessary
to look to the facts in each case, including
whether the members are convening for the
purpose of exercising responsibilities,
authority, power or duties delegated
in the body.

DR. BARBARA THOMPSON,
State Superintendent
Department of Public Instruction

You request my advice pursuant to Section
19.98, Stats., on a number of questions which
arose in the City of Kenosha with respect to
compliance with the open meeting law.

The open meeting law consists of Sections
19.81-19.98, Stats., and was created by
Chapter 426, Laws of 1975.

For the purposes of this opinion it is
assumed that the Kenosha School Board is
comprised of seven members and that no notice
of a school board meeting had been given by
the chief presiding officer of the board, to
the public, to the board's official newspaper
or to members of the news media who had
requested notice.

Section 19.82(2), Stats., provides:

19.82(2)

   "Meeting" means the convening of members
   of a governmental body for the purpose
   of exercising the responsibilities,
   authority, power or duties delegated
   to or vested in the body.

   If one-half or more of the members
   of a governmental body are present,
   the meeting is rebuttably presumed
   to be for the purpose of exercising
   the responsibilities, authority,
   power or duties delegated to
   or vested in the body.

   The term does not include any social or
   chance gathering or conference which is
   not intended to avoid this subchapter.

1. Could an individual school board member
   attend a meeting of school parents,
   whether it be PTA or PTO, if invited,
   and participate as a member of the
   audience, as a member of a panel,
   or as a speaker without violating
   the open meeting law?

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The answer in each case is yes.

There would not be a convening of a meeting
of the school board or of a formally
constituted subunit thereof.

Since less than one-half of the members of
the school board would be present, there
would be no presumption that a meeting
of the school board was involved.

2. Would there be a violation of the Open
   meeting law if four or more members
   attended a parents' meeting,
   individually discussed school-related
   problems with various parents and
   individually asked questions of
   the parents' organization,
   officers or of panelists?

In my opinion the answer is no.

Even though more than one-half of the
members of the school board were present,
the facts rebut the presumption of a
school board meeting.

The board members are acting as
individual members of the board
and there appears to be no convening
of a meeting of the school board.

3. Would there be a violation if one school
   board member participated in a panel and
   three or more other members observed
   from the audience?

In my opinion the answer is no.

The facts rebut any presumption of a meeting
of the school board created by the unplanned
attendance at the meeting of another body of
more than one-half of the members of the
school board.

4. Would there be a violation if four or
   more members participated in a panel by
   themselves or with other panelists and
   discussed responsibilities, authority,
   powers, or duties vested in the school
   board?

I cannot answer this question
without further information.

A "meeting" is defined in Section 19.82(2).
Stats., in terms of the purpose for which
it is convened, i.e.,

   "exercising the responsibilities,
   authority, power or duties delegated
   to or vested in the body."

It is my opinion, therefore, that an assembly
of more than a quorum of school board members
at which it was intended that specific
problems of the specific school district
would be discussed by and between members of
the board, or by and between members and
members of the public within such district,
would be a "meeting" within the meaning of
Section 19.82(2), Stats.

On the other hand, the term "meeting"
does not include "any social or chance
gathering or conference which is not
intended to avoid" the open meeting law.

Section 19.82(2), Stats.

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Any attempt to distinguish by definition
between "meeting" and "conference" for
purposes of this opinion would be futile,
as a "conference" in which members of a
governmental body participate, convened
for the purpose of exercising the
responsibilities, etc., of that body
would be a "meeting" within the meaning of
Section 19.82(2), Stats., whereas a meeting,
convened for some other purpose, is not a
"meeting" as defined in that section,
whatever it may be called.

In other words, in order to determine whether
a violation of the open meeting law has
occurred, it is necessary to focus on the
purpose and intent for which an assembly of a
quorum of a governmental body is convened and
not on such other factors as the number of
non-member participants, the label placed on
the meeting, or the person by whom the
meeting is convened.

The presumption that the members of the
school board are meeting for the purpose
of exercising the responsibilities, etc.,
vested in the board will of course apply
in your example.

Whether or not it can be rebutted,
however, will depend upon the facts
as they appear in a particular case
in light of the discussion above.

5. Would there be a violation if one member
   participated on a panel and three or
   more other members who were in the
   audience asked questions of or responded
   to (questions from panel members with
   respect to school district business?

No, because the convening of the members is
not "for the purpose of exercising the
responsibilities, authority, power or duties
delegated to or vested in the body."

BCL:RJV

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