Governing Bodies: General FAQ 1

What do the Wisconsin statutes say about committee appointments, structure, organization and powers?
Nothing. While it is common for municipal governing bodies to create committees and to delegate certain types of preliminary work to committees, the state statutes do not provide for or otherwise discuss the appointment, structure, organization or powers of committees. These issues are governed exclusively by local ordinances or bylaws. 

Committees are creatures of the governing body. Consequently, any actions taken by a committee must have been previously authorized by, or be subsequently ratified by, the governing body.  Committees are governmental bodies subject to the requirements of the open meetings law. Thus, any meeting of a committee must be publicly noticed in advance as required by the open meetings law.

Over the years, numerous League legal opinions and notes have been written addressing questions relating to committees or summarizing relevant court cases. The conclusions of these opinions or notes are listed below. Contact the League for a copy of any of the items listed below.

Appointments & Vacancies 165 (05/04/59)  It is customarily an attribute of the office that the village president make committee appointments, especially standing committees. However, this may be varied by ordinance or resolution.

Commissions 104 (03/25/63) If village president alone made committee appointments, then he may change or remove members at pleasure. But if confirmation of village board was required, then only the village board (including the village president) can make such change at pleasure.
Commissions 137 (10/11/72) Legal status of village board committees discussed.

Governing Bodies 228 (09/24/73) Mayor presides at committee of the whole meetings unless council rules provide otherwise.

Governing Bodies 229 (03/25/74) Committee appointed by common council to investigate and report to council recommendation for local action or legislation has power to subpoena witnesses under sec. 885.01 even if all of committee members are not aldermen.

Governing Bodies 263I (07/10/79) A committee formally constituted by a village board to which the authority to study an issue is delegated by the village board is a governmental body within the meaning of the open meeting law, because the definition of governmental body under sec. 19.82(1) expressly includes committees and, by its very nature, it constitutes a subunit of the board.

Governing Bodies 276 (12/02/80) The chairman of a committee of the village board should not unilaterally decide issues pending before the committee without either consulting with or the knowledge of the other committee members.

Governing Bodies 279 (02/20/81) Each meeting of a committee of a governing body must be preceded by public notice which must contain that information prescribed by sec. 19.84, Stats., of the Wisconsin open meeting law.

Governing Bodies 285 (09/18/81) Under the council's rules of procedure, the mayor would seemingly be the appropriate authority to remove involuntarily an alderman from the position of committee chairman, since the mayor was the appointing authority and the rule is silent as to who may remove an alderman once appointed.

Governing Bodies 287 (11/12/81) Under the city council's rules of procedure, the committee on committees, which is appointed by the council and which appoints the members and the chairmen of the three standing committees of the council, would presumably be the authority to effect the removal of a chairman, since no rule specifically delegates the removal authority to another person or body.

Governing Bodies 290 (03/25/82) Since the statutes do not prescribe a specific method of selecting members to the standing committees of a governing body, the governing body has wide latitude in devising the manner in which these appointments are to be made.

Governing Bodies 307 (03/26/86) The quorum for a committee of the whole is the same as the quorum for the parent body, according to Robert's Rules of Order (Revised 1970), unless the parent body provides otherwise.

Governing Bodies 328 (10/03/91) Municipalities may by ordinance limit the number of years persons may consecutively serve as chairpersons of governing body committees and locally created boards and commissions.

Public Buildings and Property 207 (03/27/92)

Concludes that the common council may delegate authority to sell municipal land and personal property to a committee, provided that the delegation contains sufficient standards to guide the committee in the sale of municipal property. 74 Op. Att’y Gen. 227 (1985)

Governing Bodies 331 (04/06/92) Affirms prior opinions concluding that a member of a governmental body may not be excluded from a closed meeting of a committee of the governmental body unless the rules of the governmental body so provide. Sec. 19.89,Stats.

Governing Bodies 332 (04/06/92) Concludes that an illegal meeting of the village board would not occur merely because a quorum of the board is present at a committee meeting as long as the members of the committee (at a properly noticed committee meeting) confine their discussion and actions to committee matters. However, if the committee were to discuss other village matters outside the purview of the committee, they would probably be acting as the village board at an improperly noticed meeting.

Financial Procedure 227 (10/02/95)

City's practice, pursuant to local ordinance of having the finance committee prepare a proposed budget for submission to the council is a legally viable method for preparing the annual budget. However, there is nothing precluding the mayor from relying on his power as the chief executive officer of the city (see secs. 62.09(8)(a) & (b),Stats.) to obtain budget information from each city department and prepare a budget proposal for submission to the council. The council would then have two proposed budgets to review and consider; one prepared by the finance committee and one prepared by the mayor.

Governing Bodies 364 (7/21/99). Concludes that common council's practice of approving or disapproving the minutes of commission and committee meetings at its regular monthly meeting has no legal effect or consequence.

Governing Bodies 372 (4/30/01)  Legislative body's self-imposed procedures regarding committee assignments are a question of policy for legislative, not judicial, determination. A legislature, even a municipal one, should control its own procedures. Oliveira v. City of Milwaukee, 2000 WI 27, reversing 2000 WI App. 49, 233 Wis.2d 532, 608 N.W.2d 419.