Officers FAQ 9

How does a city council or village board remove an elected or appointed officer from office in Wisconsin?

Elected city officers may be removed from office for cause by an affirmative vote of three-fourths of all members of the common council. Wis. Stat. sec. 17.12(l)(a). The procedures for removal are stated in Wis. Stat. sec. 17.16, and require the filing of written charges by a resident taxpayer and a public hearing before the common council. The term "cause" is defined as: "inefficiency, neglect of duty, official misconduct or malfeasance in office." Wis. Stat. sec. 17.001. A person lawfully removed from office for cause is ineligible to fill the vacancy caused by the removal. Wis. Stat. sec. 17.16(10).

An appointed city officer may be removed in any of the following manners:

  1. An officer appointed by the common council, by the common council, at pleasure.
  2. An officer appointed by an officer or body other than the common council (e.g., the mayor), whether or not the appointment was confirmed by the common council, in any of the following manners:
    1. By the appointing officer or body, at pleasure.
    2. By the common council, for cause.

A member of the Board of Police and Fire Commissioners may only be removed by the council for cause.   Also, police and fire chiefs may only be removed by the Board of Police and Fire Commissioners for just cause.     

Removals at pleasure are made by order. Wis. Stat. sec. 17.16(1). Removals by the council require a three-fourths vote. Wis. Stat. secs. 17.12(l)(d). Removals of appointed officers for cause are made pursuant to the procedures in section 17.16.

Notwithstanding Wis. Stat. sec. 17.12(1) and (2), a city may by ordinance provide that any appointed city officer may be removed only for inefficiency, neglect of duty, official misconduct, or malfeasance in office.

Elected village officers may be removed by majority vote of all members of the village board for "continued physical inability to perform the duties of office or gross neglect of duty." Wis. Stat. sec. 17.13(2). Although sec. 17.13(2) does not specify the procedure a board must follow when exercising its authority to remove an elective officer, the procedure must be in accord with federal and state constitutional guarantees of due process. Basic due process requires that the officer to be removed be given reasonable notice, an opportunity to be heard, the right to cross-examine any witnesses, and the right to be represented by counsel, if desired. Therefore, League legal staff recommends that village boards follow the sec. 17.16 removal process because it satisfies the minimum due process rights of the officer and many of its features can be readily fashioned to apply to a removal proceeding instituted by the board.

Appointed village officers may be removed, at pleasure, by a majority vote of all the members of the village board. Wis. Stat. sec. 17.16.

Elected and appointed village officers may also be removed for cause as defined in sec. 17.001 by the judge of a circuit court of the county in which the village is situated. Wis. Stat. sec. 17.13(3). The sec. 17.16 removal procedure, including the filing of written verified charges by a resident taxpayer of the village, applies to removal of village officers by a circuit judge.

A more detailed look at the procedures and issues regarding removal of officers can be found in the legal comment "Procedures for Removing Local Officials from Office," Officers 767, published in the March 2004 Municipality.