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November 2014
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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: 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 »

Updates on Open Records Law Available from Local Government Center and Justice Department

Is that email the town clerk just sent to the town chair a public record?  Is the city’s economic development corporation required to respond to open records requests?  Is a local government required to post a public records policy? Where can you begin to search the answers to these and other Public Records Law questions?  Try starting with two new online resources that were updated in September 2012.

The Local Government Center updated its Public Records Law Fact Sheet number 7 and it is available online.  The 17 page overview introduces Public Records Law (often also referred to as “Open Records Law”) to local officials or citizens, with enough detail to serve as a ready reference guide for any public official or employee.  The answers to the opening questions, above, can be found in the fact sheet.

Another resource has also been recently updated: Public Records Law Compliance Outline  from Wisconsin Attorney General’s office. Read more »

Learn Local Government Budget Information on Your Computer

Is this your first time preparing a budget with your Local Government?  Or are you looking for a refresher or an update?  A recording of a September 2012 the webinar “Developing the Annual Budget” is  available on your home or office on your computer with an Internet connection.  Gain not only a good understanding of what policies and rules that apply but also the “how’s” and “why’s” of local government budgets. The webinar coveresd:

  • Statutory requirements and procedures
  • Fund accounting
  • Necessary considerations, such as revenue projection and debt management, budget components and how each part/fund relates to the entire budget.

The streaming video of this program is available for Free at  The Local Government Center web site.