9.31 Declaration of policy. In recognition of the fact that a representative government is dependent upon an informed electorate, it is declared to be the public policy of this state that all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those officers and employees who represent them. Further, providing persons with such information is declared to be an essential function of a representative government and an integral part of the routine duties of officers and employees whose responsibility it is to provide such information.
The minutes of public meetings become the official record of village business when they are approved by the governing body. They serve as a permanent record of motions, discussions and votes on business that not only affect us, but as residents, we fund with our tax dollars.
While Wisconsin law gives leeway on the timing for approval and publication - minutes should be presented and approved in “a reasonable amount of time.” Caledonia, Sturtevant, Union Grove, Pleasant Prairie, Oak Creek, all review and approve the minutes from the previous meeting almost without exception. The City of Racine Common Council doesn’t consider any council vote actionable until the minutes of those actions are reviewed and accepted at the next meeting.
On Monday, February 12th, the Village Board approved - all at once - the minutes of seven Village Board meetings that dated back to December of last year. Before Monday, the last time the Village Board reviewed and approved meeting minutes was in November 2017, and that was for eleven meetings all in one vote. Eleven meetings.
During that time, the board voted on contractor agreements, invoices, relocation orders and the acquisition of property for the Foxconn development - representing tens of millions of dollars. They hired of a Village Human Resource Manager, and voted for a wage increase for the Clerk. They amended the intergovernmental water agreement with Racine and the Wisconsin DOT. They voted to purchase vacant land for an EMS station and adopted the 2018 Village Budget - ALL with no published public record of their actions.
Does that seem reasonable to you?
How did it get this way in Mt. Pleasant? Go to the municipal code of ordinances for any city, town or village and they will have a section which covers meetings. This section includes the order of business - often called the agenda - and it outlines the order in which the meeting is conducted. In general, the order is something like this:
(1) Call to Order; (2) Roll call; (3) Reading and correcting the financial report and the minutes of the last preceding meeting or meetings; (4) Public Comment and Input; (5) Reports from officials of the Village; (6) Reports from committees; (7) Unfinished business; (8) New business; (9) Adjournment.
They change the order a bit, but a review and approval of minutes comes before any new or old business on the meeting agenda.
If you look at a copy of the village code of ordinances in Mt. Pleasant, under Sec. 2-43.(6), you will find this:
a. Roll Call; b. Pledge of Allegiance; c. Public Comment and Input; d. Consent Agenda; e. New Business; f. Administrator/Staff Reports; g. Trustees’ and President’s Reports;
No minutes. You may notice item: d. Consent Agenda. When the Village Board does vote on minutes, that’s often where they are stuck. A consent agenda is stuff (like 11 meetings) that are bundled in a way for easy passage. NOT a good policy for approving the permanent record of your government.
Every governmental body must publish a public notice of a meeting - that’s most often the agenda. You have to notice a meeting in advance and you can’t take actions in meetings that aren’t publicly noticed. Every governmental body must also publish a record of the meeting - the minutes.
Wisconsin law doesn’t tell towns and village how they must run their meetings. They are only required to comply with open meetings law. As a result, most use Robert’s Rules of Order for ease and continuity. Your PTA or local church committee probably uses Robert’s Rules too.
Mt. Pleasant follows Robert’s Rules, except they skipped the very first rule about setting the agenda - reading and approval of the minutes. It doesn’t appear technically illegal, it’s just really, really bad policy.
If your neighborhood Girl Scouts can follow best practices for holding a meeting, doesn’t it seem like Mt. Pleasant can too?
The money the Village is spending on the Foxconn development is real. It will take a generation to realize a return on our investment and public oversight is required. The Village Board must bring forward an amendment to our municipal ordinances that includes the reading and approval of the minutes at every meeting.
Your right to know should be a priority and an essential part of our democracy.