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Village of Black Earth

Relevant Wisconsin Laws


Open Meetings Law
The Village Board and municipal committees are subject to the Open Meetings Law. A meeting is defined as the convening of members of a governmental body for the purpose of exercising the responsibility, authority, power, or duties delegated to that body. A meeting is subject to the law whenever the governmental body meets for official purposes. A meeting does not include social or chance gatherings not intended to avoid the law. When one-half or more of the members of a governmental body are present, however, a meeting is "rebuttably presumed" to be for official purposes.

Public Notice. The heart of the Open Meetings Law is the requirement that all meetings of a governmental body be preceded by an official public notice. It is the Committee Chairperson's responsibility to assure that public notice is provided. Public notice should be provided in the following manner:

  • As required by state statutes;
  • Notice shall set forth the time, date, place, and subject matter of the meeting, including any closed session; and
  • Notice shall be made public at least 24 hours prior to the commencement of such meeting, or 2 hours under special circumstances.
Closed Session. Generally, meetings of governmental bodies must be held in open session. Nevertheless, meetings may be closed for a number of purposes:
  • To deliberate after a quasi-judicial hearing;
  • To consider the discipline of an employee of the Village;
  • To consider other employment issues, such as promotion, performance, and compensation;
  • To deliberate or negotiate the purchase of public properties, or conduct other business whenever competitive or bargaining reasons require a closed session;
  • To discuss personnel issues that could adversely effect an employee's reputation; and
  • To confer with legal counsel, when pertinent.
Closed sessions that are planned in advance must be presented in the public notice. If the session was not planned in advance, the body must convene in open session and vote to go into a closed session. The presiding office must announce the nature of the business in addition to the statutory provision that authorizes the closed session.

The discussion in closed session must be limited to the topics for which the meeting was closed. Additionally, the governmental body may not reconvene in open session until 12 hours after completion of the closed session, unless the body indicates in its original public notice that it intends to return to open session.

Other Meetings. Governmental body members must be very careful when discussing Village Board or committee business with other members outside of a properly noticed meeting. Whenever a majority of the members of one governmental body plan to attend the meeting of another governmental body, public notice must be given that the majority of the body will be attending. This does not apply to the possible situation if a quorum of the Village Board is also the majority of another governmental body (e.g. a committee or board). A single public notice would give the public the fullest knowledge possible because it gives notice of the individuals from the Village Board whom will be present, as they make up the membership of the other governmental body.

For events in which a quorum of the Village Board may be present, a public notice is included on the agenda. The purpose of the notice is to inform the public that a quorum of the Village Board may be present, but that the Trustees will take no official action.

Penalties. Violations of the Open Meetings Law may be prosecuted by the district attorney, attorney general, or by a private individual, if the district attorney does not take the case. Members who violate the law are subject to a fine of between $25 and $300 which is to come out of their own pocket.

Policy. It is the Village's policy to conduct meetings in open session whenever possible, even if one of the closed meeting exceptions may apply. Closed sessions may be used only when necessary.

Public Records Law
It is policy of the State of Wisconsin and the Village that all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of its officers and employees. Providing the public with such information is an essential component of representative government. Thus, the Public Records Law is to be interpreted in every instance with a presumption of complete public access.

The Wisconsin State Statutes define "public record" as "any material on which written, drawn, printed, spoken, visual or electromagnetic information is recorded or preserved, regardless of physical form or characteristics, which has been created or is being kept by an authority." Sec. 19.32(2), Stats. "Authority" includes any Village office, elected official, agency, board, commission, committee, or department. All handwritten, typed or printed pages, maps, charts, photographs, films, recordings, tapes, and computer printouts that are produced or maintained by any Village officer, official, or employee as a function of the job is a public record.

If the Village or an individual representing the Village withholds a record or a part of a record, or delays granting access to a part of a record after a written request for disclosure is made, the requester is authorized to bring an action against a municipality asking the court for the release of the record. If the requester who brought the action prevails in court, there may be an award of reasonable attorney's fees, damages of not less than $100 and other actual costs to the requester. These costs and fees are the liability of the Village, and not of an individual member.

Prohibited Acts
The following is a list of criminal restrictions and other prohibited acts placed upon persons serving as Village officers. You can reference this list in the Handbook for Wisconsin Municipal Officers.
    1. A municipal officer or employee is prohibited from actually participating in the making of a contract in his/her official capacity if he/she has a direct or indirect pecuniary interest "or performs in regard to that this is a prohibition on official action, it can be avoided by having the officer abstain from voting on the contract or taking part.

    2. A municipal officer may not knowingly accept money or anything of value for furnishing information or performing services pertaining to official duties which is greater or less than is fixed by law.

    3. A municipal office may not knowingly accept personal passes or special privileges for traveling, transportation, or message communication from public utilities.

    4. A municipal office may not resort to bribery by promising appointments or anything of value or using political pressure as a means of securing votes.

    5. A Trustee may not sell, directly or indirectly, to any intoxicating liquor licensee in the Village, anything used in carrying on the licensee's business.

    6. A Trustee who is licensed to practice law may not defend persons charged with violation of Village ordinances or the state criminal law.

    7. A Trustee may not, as a member of the Board of Review, fraudulently fix values or omit taxable property from assessment.

    8. A municipal officer is criminally liable for knowingly acting in excess of authority or in a manner forbidden by law.

    9. A municipal officer acting under color of law may not deprive any U.S. citizen or person of rights, privileges, or immunities guaranteed by the Constitution or laws of the United States.

    10. A municipal officer who participates in a meeting held in violation of the Wisconsin Open Meetings Law may be subject to a forfeiture of between $25 and $300. The Village cannot reimburse this forfeiture.

    11. A Trustee may not sell any article, material, product, or merchandise to any Village employee except meals, public services, and articles needed for the health or safety of the employee.
Misconduct in Office
Any Village Trustee who: intentionally fails or refuses to perform a known mandatory, non-discretionary, ministerial duty of his/her office in a timely manner; or does not act which is in excess of lawful authority or which is known to be forbidden by law; or exercise a discretionary power in a manner inconsistent with the duties of office or employment or the rights of others and with intent to obtain a dishonest advantage for him/herself or another; or makes an entry in an account, record book, report or statement, etc, which is in a material respect intentionally falsifies; or intentionally solicits or accepts for the performance of any service or duty anything of value which he/she knows is greater or less than is fixed by law is guilty of misconduct while in office. Sec. 946.12, Stats.

Conflict of Interest
No public officer or employee may use or permit the use of Village vehicles, equipment, materials, or property for personal convenience or profit, except when the services are available to the public generally or are provided as Village policy.

No public officer or employee may engage in any business transaction with the Village, or have a financial or other personal interest, direct or indirect, which is incompatible with the proper discharge of his/her official duties or will tend to impair his/her independence or judgment or action in the performance of official duties.

Any public officer or employee who has a substantial financial interest, including employment, in any business entity entering into, proposing to enter into or bidding on any transaction with the Village, or as part of his/her official duties will be making an official decision or recommendation significantly affecting a business competitor, client or regular customer, must disclose the interest to the membership of the Village Board to be recorded in the minutes of that body. Upon such disclosure, it is advised that the public officer or employee should abstain from voting on the matter and from participating in the discussion of the matter.

Public officers and employees should not represent private interests before the Village Board or Village agencies. Additionally, no public official or employee shall disclose confidential information concerning the property, government affairs of the Village, or use the information to advance the financial or other private interests. Gifts and favors should not be accepted when their receipt impairs independence of judgment or action in the performance of official duties.

Contact: mail@villageofblackearth.com |   JoeMcCoe 2013