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March/April 2020 Issue

Also in this issue: COVID-19 Pandemic     |     Wisconsin Supreme Court Upholds City of Sheboygan Annexation     |     No Private Cause of Action to Compel Towns to Construct Roads to Meet Wis. Stat. § 82.50 Standards

Municipalities Have New Flexibility to Provide Notice of Open Meetings

On March 3, 2020, Governor Evers signed 2019 Wisconsin Act 140 (“Act 140”), which amended Wisconsin’s Open Meetings Law to clarify the methods by which a governmental body may provide an Open Meetings notice to the public.

Previously, Wis. Stat. § 19.84(1)(b) provided that either the chief presiding officer of a governmental body or the officer’s designee must provide notice of the governmental body’s meeting to the public, any news media who had filed a written request for such notice, and to the official newspaper designated under Wisconsin law on publication of legal notice located in Wis. Stat. ch. 985, or if none exists, to a news medium likely to give notice in the area.

While the previous law provided that notice must be given to the public, it did not specify the method that a governmental body must use to provide notice to the public.  Attorney General guidance had indicated that in most situations, governmental bodies should provide notice of meetings to the public by posting notices in at least three public places likely to give notice to the persons affected, in addition to the applicable news media.

Act 140 amended Wis. Stat. § 19.84(1)(b) and provides additional flexibility to governmental bodies. Now, a governmental body may choose one of the following three methods for giving notice to the public:

(1) Posting a notice in at least three public places likely to give notice to persons affected;

(2) Posting a notice in at least one public place likely to give notice to persons affected and placing a notice electronically on the governmental body’s internet site; or

(3) By paid publication in a news medium likely to give notice to persons affected.

This is in addition to providing notice of the governmental body’s meeting to any news media who had filed a written request for such notice, and to the official newspaper designated under Wisconsin law, or if none exists, to a news medium likely to give notice in the area. 

The Act became effective on March 5, 2020. Municipalities should review any ordinances, resolutions, or policies relating to public notice and consider revising them to take advantage of the greater flexibility provided by this law change.  In the absence of an ordinance, resolution, or policy, the municipality can likely take advantage of this flexibility immediately.

This newsletter is published and distributed for informational pur- poses only. It does not offer legal advice with respect to particular situations, and does not purport to be a complete treatment of the legal issues surrounding any topic. Because your situation may differ from those described in this Newsletter, you should not rely solely on this information in making legal decisions.

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