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Intergovernmental Task Force Between Town of Delton and Ho-Chunk Nation Subject to Open Meetings Laws, Attorney General Van Hollen Reasons in Informal Opinion

 

MADISON - Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen today issued an informal opinion concluding that an intergovernmental task force established by the Town of Delton and the Ho-Chunk Nation for the purpose of advising the respective governments about intergovernmental cooperation issues related to business and economic development in the Delton area is a governmental body subject to the requirements of Wisconsin's open meetings law.  Van Hollen further concluded that the task force may not generally conduct all of its meetings in closed session, based on the Ho‑Chunk Nation's desire to protect the confidentiality of its business development plans, but may close those portions of its meetings that involve specific information which, if discussed in open session, would directly and substantially harm the Town's competitive or bargaining interests.

 

Van Hollen determined that the task force is a governmental body because it was created by a resolution of the Town Board that directed its establishment and authorized it to investigate, discuss, and report to the Town Board on matters of government business.  The fact that the Ho‑Chunk Nation's Legislature also issued a parallel resolution, Van Hollen reasoned, did not affect the fact that the Town Board's resolution was itself an order sufficient to create a governmental body for purposes of the open meetings law. 

 

Because the task force is a governmental body, Van Hollen found that its meetings must comply with Wisconsin's open meetings law, including the requirements related to closed sessions.  In particular, Van Hollen noted that the statutory provision allowing closed sessions for competitive or bargaining reasons does not permit the task force to close all of its meetings in a blanket manner, but rather, only authorizes closure on those particular occasions when the meeting will involve specific information which, if discussed in open session, would directly and substantially harm the competitive or bargaining interests at issue.

 

Van Hollen also determined that a request for confidential meetings from the Ho-Chunk Nation, based on the Nation's own business interests, does not in itself suffice to justify closing a meeting of the task force.  Rather, under Wisconsin's open meetings law, the competitive or bargaining interests justifying closure must belong to a state or municipal governmental entity, such as the Town of Delton.

 

The opinion was requested by attorney William F. Greenhalgh, legal counsel for the Town of Delton.  Information related to the request was also supplied by Sheila Corbine, Attorney General of the Ho-Chunk Nation.