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OPINION NO. OAG 69-88,
Wisconsin Attorney General Opinions
19 December 1988
News media who have filed written requests
for notices of public meetings cannot be
charged fees by governmental bodies for
the communication of such notices.
FRED A. RISSER,
Chairperson Senate Organization Committee
The Senate Organization Committee has asked
whether a city and a county can charge fees
to news media and private citizens to notify
them of public meetings.
The question is prompted by the reported
practice in the city of Green Bay and Brown
County where news media and private citizens
are allowed to pick up meeting notices at
the city and county clerks' offices free,
but are charged flat fees for mailed
notices and agendas.
The open meetings law requires governmental
bodies to give notices of their meetings.
Section 19.84(1), Stats., provides:
Public notice of all meetings of a
governmental body shall be given
in the following manner:
As required by any other statutes; and
By communication from the chief presiding
officer of a governmental body or such
person's designee to the public, to those
news media who have filed a written request
for such notice, and to the official
newspaper designated under Sections
985.04, 985.05 and 985.06 or, if
none exists, to a news medium
likely to give notice in the area.
The issue to be addressed is when may a
governmental body charge private citizens
and the news media for communicating
notices of public meetings.
The requirement to communicate notice to
the public can be satisfied by posting a
notice or by publication of the notice
in the newspaper.
66 Op. Att'y Gen. 93, 95 (1977); and
63 Op. Att'y Gen. 509, 510-11 (1974).
The notice to the news media who have
requested it pursuant to section 19.84(1)(b)
can be communicated either verbally (direct
or by telephone) or in written form.
63 Op. Att'y Gen. at 511.
If the written notice is mailed, the mailing
must take place early enough so that in the
ordinary course of events the notice can
reasonably be expected to be delivered to the
media at least twenty-four hours in advance
of the meeting, or two hours in advance where
exceptional circumstances justify the shorter
period. Sec. 19.84(3), Stats.
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In my opinion, because the open meetings law
places the burden on the governmental body to
communicate notice of public meetings to the
public and various news media, the city and
the county cannot charge for providing the
notices required by section 19.84(1) and (2).
This means the city and county cannot charge
the news media for mailing the notice
required by section 19.84(1)(b).
They may, however, charge private citizens
who have requested mailed notices of public
meetings if the statutory notice to the
public has been satisfied.
Moreover, once the notices required by the
statute have been given, the city and the
county can charge fees permitted by the
public records law in section 19.35(3) for
additional copies of notices that are
requested by the media or private citizens.
It is also possible that the notices used by
the city and the county may not be as
detailed as agenda or other documents that
are prepared for the meetings.
Once the city and county have communicated
notice that contains the information required
by section 19.84(2), the city and county can
charge citizens and the media for copies of
the more detailed documents because those
documents would be in addition to the
statutorily required notice.
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