At least the county board is no longer ‘divisive’
Say this for Brenda Konkel. She is something of a local government watchdog. She an open meetings maven, which is to her credit. She is blowing the whistle on, especially, the Dane County Board of Supervisors and the Madison Board of Education.
Madame Konkel divulges that County Board Chairman Sharon Corrigan has been meeting with committee heads — sometimes as many as 10 supervisors out of the 37 total — a week before the actual publicly noticed County Board meetings. Given that the board is near total Democrat/Progressive Dane, this is rich!
⇒ It explains why county board meetings wrap up in as little as a half hour as compared to hours for the city council.
Again, good for Brenda. Corrigan et al answer that there is no agenda and no votes are taken, that it’s an informal sharing of information, according to Chris Rickert, who followed up. Blaska Policy Werkes opines that such confabs might be better handled at open meetings of the Executive Committee who, at one time, largely consisted of those committee chairs.
Indeed, Wisconsin’s open meetings law is strict. It prohibits a “walking quorum,” which the state attorney general’s Open Meetings Law Compliance Guide defines as:
A “walking quorum” is a series of gatherings among separate groups of members of a governmental body, each less than quorum size, who agree, tacitly or explicitly, to act uniformly in sufficient number to reach a quorum. … The requirements of the open meetings law thus cannot be circumvented by using an agent or surrogate to poll a quorum of the members of governmental bodies through a series of individual contacts. Such a circumvention “almost certainly” violates the open meetings law.
Laws and sausages
Even so, Blaska posits this: the legislative process is inherently messy. Its workings are amorphous. Contrast with the executive branch, which is — as Lincoln himself once said — a majority of one. Legislatures are intended to be — it can only work if — collegial, collaborative, and in constant contact with one another — if only enough to produce a working majority. Legislators are not discalced hermits.
Are three legislators on a seven member board barred from taking lunch and talking over the issues of the day? Yes, according to the law, if they commit to voting a certain way. Especially if they subsequently gain concurrence from a fourth, making a majority. But how do the speech regulators adjudicate a breaking of bread where the participants agree that excellent points have been made by all at the table?
⇒ Can we walk and talk down the hallway? “Think you can go with us on that proposal, Alder? It would help your district.” Or must I shun colleagues, make small talk? How ‘bout them Packers?
Let’s face it, that’s what happens in the Wisconsin state legislature in a process known as the party caucus. Behind closed doors. No news media. Republicans get their act together in their caucus, Democrats in theirs. Same with the U.S. Congress.
Can’t respond to news media questions?
Some of this has gotten weird. The Capital Times polled alders and school board members on situating the F-35 aircraft at Madison’s Truax Field last fall. In this case, Brenda Konkel rightly accuses elected reps from hiding behind the Open Meetings Law to frustrate public transparency. How ironic is that!
Brenda writes that she blogged about the chilling impact on public information in October. The city attorney said this:
I am concerned that this sort of “straw poll” on an issue that may reappear on the Council’s agenda is an invitation to violate the Wisconsin Open Meetings Law. This could easily be seen as an attempt at creating a walking quorum. … I recognize that this also could be seen as a benign attempt to get the political positions of local politicians.
The school board got the same advice. Yet, school board members had been meeting informally with then Supt. Jennifer Cheatham for “informational updates.” (The Policy Werkes sees no problem with that, btw.)
Back in the day
After decades of liberal hegemony, conservatives took a bare majority on the Dane County Board back in 2004 and again two years later. The liberals, unable to counter us on the issues and being generally poor losers, cried that the county board had become “divisive.” The Capital Times, stenographers of the political Left, dutifully took up the cry.
Eventually, this Blaska stood up to counter their disinformation campaign. “This county board is the sound democracy makes,” I said. “It is where the issues of the day are fully debated, we take roll call of all the members on the Yeas and Nays. That doesn’t occur on the fourth floor (where the county executive lives).”
Dane County liberals exerted near-total control after redrawing district boundaries in 2011 and began meeting for dress rehearsals before that practice was exposed three years later. A working majority, in indisputable violation of the Open Meetings statute.
Blaska’s Bottom Line: Want open government and real debate? Elect real diversity — of opinion, not rubber stamps.