Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council

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Home Attorney General opinions & letters
Attorney General opinions and letters

Wisconsin statutes grant responsibility to the Attorney General to provide citizens with advice regarding the state's open meetings and public records laws. Listed below are selected opinions from the Attorney General's Office regarding legal questions. All formal opinions can be found here on the state's Web site.

Informal "Letter" Public Records Opinions

  • Litke/July 11, 2014 (Custodians may not charge per-page copy fees for records provided in electronic form.)
  • Marcus/July 22, 2011 (Justice Department notes that "opinion is divided" over whether custodians can charge for the cost of redacting confidential parts of records but advises that it does not consider such charges appropriate.)
  • Zellmer/February 4, 2010 (Office advices that sorting relevant emails from spam is not necessary; that charging for review of records is "unreasonale as a general matter"; and that some charges for the cost of making redactions may be appropriate.)
  • Jones/January 25, 2010 (Public bodies that conduct votes via e-mail are likely in violation of the state's Open Meetings Laws.)
  • Peckler-Dziki/December 23, 2009 (Content of social website maintained by government official and used to discuss government business is likely a public record, Attorney General concludes.)
  • Anderson/December 17, 2009 (UW-System student government bodies who are assigned shared governance responsibilities are subject to Wisconsin Open Meetings Law, Attorney General concludes.) Copy of request
  • Erickson/April 22, 2009 (Clarifies that a meeting notice must reasonably apprise the public of the subject matter of the meeting, and that 'Planning Commission meeting minutes of March 3, 2009' is not sufficient notice.)
  • Fish/March 19, 2009 (Attorney General clarifies when an organization is a "quasi-governmental corporation" subject to the Public Records and Open Meetings laws.)
  • Granzow/February 10, 2009 (The attorney general concludes that "directory data" (pupil name, address, telephone listing, birth date, etc.) maintained by school districts are presumed public under the open records law and not excluded from access under state and federal pupil confidentiality laws.)
  • Defour/January 28, 2009 (AG's analysis concludes that an advisory committee created by a public body is subject to the open meetings law)
  • Shear/October 16, 2008 (Anything in excess of 25 cents (per page for records) may be suspect)
  • Karstens/July 31, 2008 (Site visits by governmental bodies are "meetings")
  • Huebscher/May 23, 2008 (The law generally requires public bodies to keep a record of actions taken in closed session.)
  • Dreps & Peterson/April 29, 2008 (Federal drivers act does not trump state records law when it comes to law enforcement records)
  • Dieck/January 10, 2008 (A social gathering of members of a public body can violate the open meetings law)
  • Collins/November 13, 2007 (Exemption for prosecutors' files does not automatically apply to police records)
  • Stanley/September 27, 2007 (the federal HIPAA law's privacy requirements do not preclude records disclosure under state law)
  • Madden/November, 28, 2006 (analyzing whether a town board violated the open meetings law by meeting in closed session to discuss appointees to committees and hiring decisions).
  • Peck/April 17, 2006 (whether meetings must be posted online if a body operates a Web site).
  • Georgeson/Sept. 9, 2005 (regarding whether a committee informally created by a school superintendent is required to follow open meetings law).
  • Michael/June 21, 2005 (regarding propriety of closed session discussions about job candidates).
  • Kunelius/Feb. 9, 2005 (no blanket privilege exists for public officials to avoid testifying about matters discussed in closed session).
  • Kaminski/October 25, 2005 (applying analysis of "quasi-governmental" bodies to conclude the Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association must comply with open meetings law).
  • Tylka/June 8, 2005 (analyzing under what circumstances a superintendent's meetings with his management team may qualify as a quasi-governmental body).
  • Dowling/August 4, 2005 (analyzing when a medical school's advisory committee should meet in open session to discuss grants and grant reviewers).
  • Seymer/October 7, 2005 (discussing e-mail messages about public business among members of an elected body)
  • Krischan/October 3, 2005 ("strongly discourages" the members of governmental bodies from
    using electronic mail to communicate on matters within the realm of the body's authority).
  • Strobl/June 9, 2004 (regarding voting in closed session).
  • Rude/March 5, 2004 (determining that a general "mayor's comments" section of agenda is probably a violation of the specificity requirement of a meeting's agenda).
  • Bucher/Sept. 27, 2004 (seeking clarification on 1977 AG opinion about when a body can convene a closed session that was not noticed in advance).
  • Barsh/Feb. 21, 2003 (closed session votes that are integral to deliberation may not violate open meetings law).
  • Haro/June 13, 2003 (regarding closed session meetings to interview candidates for elected office positions).
  • Bucher/Oct. 15, 1993 (Finding that a consortium of school districts created to develop curriculum is a governmental entity subject to the open meetings law).
  • Adelman/April 26, 1993 (Governmental agencies may not discuss items that are not listed on the meeting's agenda).
  • Sherrod/Oct. 17, 1991 (A school district's strategic planning committee must comply with the open meetings law).
  • McNamee/May 25, 1990 (A covenant committee created by a city council must comply with the open meetings law).
  • Lash/Nov. 13, 1989 (Discussing what records are required to be kept to document meetings and actions of governmental bodies).
  • Borgo/March 8, 1989 (Regarding the law's applicability to committee-of-the-whole meetings).

Public Records Opinions

  • Dunst/Sept. 9, 2006 (e-mails of members of the Elections Board about public business, even if on private e-mail accounts, are subject to open records laws).
  • Baugrud/Oct. 13, 2006 (a $10 charge for a one-page copy is "inconsistent" with the public records law).
  • Friedman/Oct. 21, 2005 (applying balancing test and determining that evaluations of technical college president are subject to release upon request).
  • Baker/July 12, 2004 (the refusal to release names of final candidates for a superintendent's position violates public records law).
  • Lueders/June 1, 2004 (public records law does not state records custodians can charge for time for redactions or balancing tests).
  • Benson/March 12, 2004 (public officials' personal e-mail accounts used for public business are subject to public records law)
  • Panzer/October 14, 2003 (Disclosure of mailing and distribution lists discussed.  Courts are likely to require disclosure of legislators’ mailing and distribution lists absent a factual showing that the public interest in withholding the records outweighs the public interest in their release.  Assuming the custodian decides to release such distribution lists, addressees on the list are not entitled to prior notice and the opportunity to challenge the release under Woznicki and newly created Wis. Stat. § 19.356.)

 

"Formal" Open Records Opinions

  • McNamara/June 10, 1994 (Discussion of whether final deliberations and approval of contract ratification must be conducted in open session).
  • Pelrine/Feb. 25, 1992 (Regarding closed session discussions of hiring of public employee).
  • Ott/Nov. 18, 1991(Analyzing the law's definitions of governmental bodies and quasi-governmental corporations).
  • Besadny/April 28, 1989 (Applicability of law to advisory committees).
  • Risser/Dec. 19, 1988 (Entities may not charge fees to send meeting notices).
  • Harvey/Nov. 6, 1987 (Regarding county board committee's ability to meet in closed session to discuss committee appointments).
  • Fryatt/May 9, 1985 (Regarding closed session meeting about hiring of public employee).
  • Cullen/March 8, 1985 (Explaining why "friends" organizations that provide financial support to public television stations are not subject to the open meetings law).
  • Lindner/June 17, 1980 (a public entity may conduct meetings via teleconference if they are accessible to the public).
  • Mill/April 6, 1977 (a volunteer fire department is not a governmental body for purposes of the open meetings law).
  • Boyd/March 26, 1977 (discussing meeting notice requirements).
  • Heath/April 21, 1978 (discussing votes taken in closed session regarding employee pay packages).

 

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