Washburn's World

My take on the world. My wife often refers to this as the WWW (Weird World of Washburn)

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Location: Germantown, Wisconsin, United States

I am a simple country boy transplanted from the Piehl Township in northern Wisconsin to the Milwaukee metropolitan area who came down "sout" in 1980 for college and have stayed in the area since.
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Thursday, December 02, 2010

The Germantown School Board Holds Another illegal Meeting Tonight

The Germantown Board of Education again failed to give proper notice of the meeting of the Planning Committee held this evening, December 2, 2010. At least I think it’s was the Planning Committee. The meeting agenda at Rockfield Elementary school was on an interior wall behind locked doors. Even with the zoom lens my 48 year-old eyes had trouble reading the "public" notice. This continues the Board's 100% failure rate to hold a legal meeting of the Germantown Board of Education since they were first told of their statutory violations on June 14, 2010.

Tonight the Board violated WI Stats. 19.84(1)(b) in yet another way.

From June 14, 2010 to September 27, 2010, the board posted the "public" meeting notices in glass cases within each school building behind a minimum of 2 locked doors. The policy of the Board is that stepping foot on a property containing a school building or entering the building proper is trespassing UNLESS you have a child attending the school and you sign in at the office. Even if you overlook the trespass policy, posting meeting agendas inside a building behind at least two locked doors is not a "public notice of a meeting."

The annual meeting of the Germantown Board of Education was on September 27, 2010. The Board was anxious to not have any technicalities foul up the tax hikes it was to enact during the annual meeting. On the morning of September 27, 2010 the agendas for the annual meeting were moved from the usual places within the school buildings to the interior side of an exterior window. The agendas were visible to anyone standing outside the school building, but that pesky open meeting law, WI Stats. 19.84(3), requires a meeting notice not only be public, but that it be posted "least 24 hours prior to the commencement of such meeting." [emphasis mine]

DOH!! So much for the tax hike being legal.

Since September 27, 2010 the Germantown School Board has recognized that no district property with a school building on it is a public place. The student safety measures (of which the above trespassing policy is a part) have removed the school buildings and the properties they rest upon from the public spaces within the community. The district rightly considers student safety more import than the unfettered public access which the "public" aspects of WI Stats. 19.84 require. In recognition that posting meeting notices anywhere on or within the 6 school buildings (while convenient for the district staff) is not public in the sense of WI Stats. 19.84, the Board has changed its official position regarding the notice requirements of WI Stats. 19.84. While the staff of the school district need do no more than go to work to see an agenda of an upcoming Board meeting, the other 18,000 residents of the Village of Germantown are required go to the distict offices, located on Donges Bay Road, and view the agenda posted on the interior side of external window near the southwest entrance. The official position of the Board of Education is that posting a meeting agenda in this single (but, admittedly public) location is sufficient (in a village of 34 square miles and 18,000 people) to apprise members of the public and the news media of time, date, place and subject matter of the meeting as required by WI Stats. 19.84(2). This position is preposterous and is in stark contrast to the opinions held by Wisconsin Attorneys General since 1977 that three public locations is the minimum. This is the Board's official position and Chairman Michael Erdman even stated during the October 25, 2010 meeting of the Board that they are "comfortable" with this policy. On that, I will let DA Cannon sort the matter out as his office works through the complaint I sent to his office under WI Stats. 19.97.

The problems with not meeting the requirements of WI Stats. 19.84 though are stiff. First there is $25 - $300 fine faced by each Board member. The fine is per meeting attended. The second is that if the meeting is not properly noticed, then the meeting is not an open meeting. If it is not an open meeting, then any actions taken during the meeting are voidable. In Wisconsin:
Every meeting of a governmental body shall be preceded by public notice as provided in s. 19.84, and shall be held in open session. At any meeting of a governmental body, all discussion shall be held and all action of any kind, formal or informal, shall be initiated, deliberated upon and acted upon only in open session except as provided in s. 19.85. [19.83(1)]
The Planning Committee meeting was not properly noticed because the postings in the school buildings were again placed behind locked doors and on interior walls of the school building. In addition to this usual failure though, the Board also failed to send the meeting notice to all "those news media who have filed a written request for such notice as required by WI Stats. 19.84(1)(b).

Back in September 2010, I requested in writing to be notified of meetings of the Germantown School Board. But, by not sending meeting notices to the interested media (or at least me among the other media), the Board failed to meet the requirements of WI Stats. 19.84.

I am not sure there are many more ways the Village of Germantown Board of Education can violate WI Stats. 19.84. But I have faith. They will. The Board and its staff have proven positively ingenious in violating both the letter and spirit of Wisconsin's open meetings law.