Open Meetings Law FAQ 7

How specific does the notice of a closed session need to be?

The legislature has recognized that there are important interests that will be served by allowing certain governmental business to be conducted in closed session. Wis. Stat. sec.19.85.  On the other hand, the public has an indisputable interest in being informed about the matters to be discussed and acted upon by a governmental body at a meeting. This interest is reflected in the requirement for public notice of public meetings set forth in sec.19.84(2) which provides:

Every public notice of a meeting shall set forth the time, date, place and subject matter of the meeting, including that intended for consideration at any closed session, in such form as is reasonably likely to apprise members of the public and news media thereof. [Emphasis added].

As to the basic notice requirement, the attorney general has indicated:

This provision does not require a governmental body to utilize a detailed agenda. Many governmental bodies, by custom or procedural rule, do utilize a detailed agenda which is in itself suitable for publishing, posting and delivery to any official newspaper or members of the news media. The notice utilized should be as specific as possible. The intent of the new law is clear. The public is entitled to the best notice which can be given (emphasis added).

63 Op. Att'y Gen. 143, 144 (1977).

Commentators on the Wisconsin Open Meetings Law have stated that a general recitation of the statutory exemption language relied upon for the proposed closed session would not provide sufficient notice. Natkins & Schneider, Understanding Wisconsin's Open Meetings Law, sec. 6.6, 52 (1994). It is also apparent that such notice or a notice that would give some generalized indication of the subject matter to be discussed during a closed session would not constitute the "best notice which can be given" under the law. Instead, the obligation to provide the "best notice which can be given" requires that the closed session notice be as specific as possible without compromising the interests served by the proposed closed session. Thus, the closed session and notice interests, although competing, are furthered to the greatest extent possible.