Parliamentary Procedure FAQ 5

Is a municipal governing body required to hold a public hearing before adopting an ordinance?
 
Not necessarily. There is no general statutory requirement that municipal governing bodies conduct a public hearing before taking action on proposed ordinances. In general, a public hearing is required only if a state or federal law, agency regulation, or local ordinance mandates that a hearing be held.
 
In Wisconsin, there are a number of state statutes requiring municipalities to conduct a public hearing before taking certain actions. For example, municipalities must hold a public hearing before adopting or amending a zoning ordinance, amending an official map, acting on a petition for a conditional use permit or variance, and adopting the annual budget.

In the absence of a state or federal statute or agency rule mandating that a hearing be held, municipal governing bodies may rely on their broad authority to determine their rules of procedure and adopt ordinances or rules requiring that public hearings be held before taking certain actions. A municipal governing body may, for example, decide that a public hearing needs to be held on proposed ordinances dealing with certain subjects; on proposed projects over a certain amount of money; or on certain capital expenditures. Even in the absence of a rule or ordinance requiring a public hearing, the governing body can agree on a case-by-case basis to postpone a decision until after a public hearing is held.