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Spanish Language Factsheets Available

A Spanish language fact sheet on Wisconsin’s Public Records Law , or Ley de Registros Publicos,  became the most recent effort by the Local Government Center’s effort to inform on important local government laws and issues, as well as reach out to Wisconsin’s Spanish speaking residents. The Spanish Recordslanguage fact sheet joins the Open Meetings Law  (Ley de Reuniones Abiertas de Wisconsin) fact sheet, which was translated into Spanish in 2011.

 Fact sheets on local government topics are a staple of the services from the Local Government Center provides. Two of the most downloaded fact sheets of the Center are the ones on Open Meetings Law and Public Records Law. They were obvious choices to be translated into Spanish. Multilingualism has a long history in Wisconsin. Most notably, Wisconsin’s first Constitution was published in English, German and Norwegian so as to reach all communities in the state even though English has been the predominantly spoken language.(See Legislative Reference Bureau Brief 02-10.)  The Local Government Center is will continue to work to provide access to its information for better governance and participation by all.

Be Sure Your Local Government Complies with Act 10’s Grievance Procedure Statute

Since October 2011, all local government units are required to have a “grievance procedure that addresses employee terminations.”  Wis. Stat. §  66.0509(1m), requires that this procedure be a written document and that it address discipline and workplace safety issues as well as employee terminations. act 10A Wisconsin Court of Appeals decision from December 2013, gives local governments reason local government units should review their grievance procedure.

Wis. Stat. §  66.0509(1m), does not define “employee terminations.” In Dodge County’s grievance policy “termination” was defined to exclude “termination of employment … due to medical condition, lack of qualification or license, non-renewal of contract, or other inability to perform job duties.”  When a County employee lost her license due to an OWI, the County dismissed her. The employee requested a grievance hearing, but the county denied her a hearing. The employee sued and argued that Wis. Stat. § 66.0509(1m) required all employee terminations to be addressed by a grievance procedure.

The county maintained that she was not terminated. Under the county policy, because having a valid license was a qualification for her position, it was argued her job was lost due to losing the qualifications for the job, not due to “termination.”  Ultimately the Court of Appeals held in Prof’l Emp. Local vs. Dodge County, 2014 WI App 8 ,that Wis. Stat. § 66.0509(1m) required all employee dismissals to be addressed by a grievance procedure. Therefore exclusions in Dodge County’s grievance procedure violated Wis. Stat. § 66.0509(1m). Id. ¶ 15. Read more »

Charging Fees for Public Record Requests of Electronic Records

Providing the public with information is an essential function of local government. But complying with public records requests take time and money. To provide some balance to this conundrum, the Wisconsin Public Records Law allows an authority to charge certain fees for complying with a records request. An authority may impose a fee for the “actual, necessary and direct cost” of “reproduction and transcription,” “photographing and photographic processing,” “locating,” and “mailing or shipping.” Wis. Stats. § 19.35(3). Furthermore, an authority can only charge fees specified in the Public Records Law. (See: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel v. City of Milwaukee, 2012 WI 65.)

 But that raises the question – how should an authority calculate the “actual, necessary and direct cost” of complying with a public records request in an electronic format? Read more »

LGC Partner,Prof. Brian Ohm, Authors Extension Report on Changes to Planning Laws

A new Extension Report summarizing Wisconsin planning-related case law and state legislative enactments for the past year.  It is available at the UW-Madison Urban and Regional Planning Website website. 

Significant court cases over the past year eliminated the authority of towns to zone land within the shoreland area and further reduced the extraterritorial plat approval authority of cities and villages. Significant Brian Ohmlegislative developments over the past year include changes to the requirements for shoreland zoning in cities and villages, enabling a limited number of towns to use tax increment financing, and changes to the certified survey map requirements to encourage redevelopment and reuse of certain lands.  All these, and more, are summarized in the report entitled: The Year in Review: A Summary of Wisconsin Planning Cases from June 1, 2013 – July 1, 2014 and Recent Legislation.

The report is authored by Brian Ohm.  Brian is a Professor and UWEX Planning Law Specialist at both UW-Madison and UW Extension.  Brian has worked with the Local Government Center most recently as the co-moderator of the Local Land Use Planning and Zoning WisLine Series. 

Regulating the Rocket’s Red Glare

Local Governments receive many questions about fireworks, and especially during the July 4 holiday.  The Local Government Center has identified these online resources to help answer questions.f  Click the titles to connect to the information source.  And Have a Happy and Safe Fourth of July!

New Fact Sheet Helps with Electronic Meeting Questions

The Local Government Center routinely receives questions about an official wanting to participate in a meeting by phone or conducting a conference callcomplete meeting by teleconference.  Winter brings a lot of these inquiries when hazardous travel or absent “snowbirds” give rise to the desire or need for an official or several to participate in a meeting by phone or other electronic media.

A new Electronic Meetings Fact Sheet offers guidance on issues raised by these requests or by attempting to conduct meetings through phone or other communication means.  This fact sheet considers issues raised under Wisconsin’s Open Meeting Law and how Roberts Rules of Order Newly Revised affect electronic meetings.  It also offers some practical thoughts on the challenges of chairing or participating in an electronic meeting.

The fact sheet gives more serious thought to practical issues amusingly illustrated in a recent You Tube video entitled: A Conference Call in Real Life.  In that video a group dramatizes conference call meeting mishaps as if everyone were in the same room, such as dogs barking or appliance noises or silence when an attendee is asked a question because the person responding forgot to take their phone off mute. Local Government Specialist Dan Hill authored the fact sheet and commented that the YouTube video points out many of the potential problems faced in an actual electronic meeting.  Problems we can hope to avoid by reviewing the Electronic Meetings Fact sheet today.  Find it on the Local Government Center web site: http://lgc.uwex.edu/ under the Documents tab.

In Memoriam: Ken Nelson

We at the UW Extension Local Government Center remain deeply saddenedKenNelson by the news of Ken Nelson’s passing on November 26, 2013.  Ken assisted in the formation of the Local Government Center over 20 years ago, and served as co-director until his retirement.   Ken helped guide many UW Extension faculty and local governments.  It was an honor to be a part of his life.

Quorum And Attendance Of Members At Local Government Meetings

Situation:  It is important that members of local government boards, councils, and committees attend every meeting in its entirety so that each decision made is as representative of the will of the body as possible.  In addition, it is required that a quorum, a specified number of members or proportion of the membership, be MC900438736[1]present at a meeting for any decisions made to be valid and binding on the body.  Non-attendance at meetings,  or early departure from them, can prevent the body from conducting business.

(Note that quorum requirements apply to local government bodies but not to meetings of the electorate as in annual town meetings or annual school district budget meetings.)

What is the number of members required to constitute a quorum?  Unless otherwise specified, a quorum of a public body is a majority of the members unless a greater number is set by law.  For example, the quorum of a city council having more than five members is two-thirds of the members. The governing body may set the quorum requirements for its committees.

[Note that “quorum” refers to the minimum number or proportion of the membership that must be present to have a meeting in which decisions that bind the body can be made.  The number of votes required to make some changes or pass some measures varies, so that in some cases the number of votes required to act is more than the number required for a quorum.  Local government officials should check the statutes and their own rules for specific vote requirements.] 

What is the effect of not having a quorum at meetings?  When a meeting is attended by fewer members than those required to constitute a quorum, Read more »

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Though Alan Probst recently resigned his Local Government Specialist position at the Local Government Center to assume a position at the Pentagon, the Center and UW-Extension continue to benefit from Al’s work.  The International City/Countyalanlibrary Management Association (ICMA) recently published Alan’s article, “Managing in a Labor Contract Void,” in the on-line edition of Public Management Magazine.  The article provides practical information to local government managers who find themselves managing without a union contract.  Frankly, Read more »

New Factsheets Answer Questions about County Government

UW Extension’s Local Government Center has updated its fact sheet titled County Government in Wisconsin History & Background and created a new fact sheet:  Limits of County Board Administrative Authority.  Fact sheets are brief publications covering specific topics and offer a ready and accessible source of information.   These and other Fact sheets are available on the Center’s Web site.

Wisconsin residents know they live in a county, that county’s name and usually where the courthouse is located.  The details of county government structure may not be so readily understood, or county officials may be looking for clarification of their responsibilities.   There may be specific questions about county government structure and operation, such as:

  • What are the differences between county executives, county administrators and county administrative coordinators?
  • What are Read more »