By Cara L. Dempski
ELK MOUND — The public safety and employee relations committees for Elk Mound met late last week to discuss the police chief position, but the public was not allowed to weigh in on the subject.
The August 31 joint meeting of the public safety and employee relations committees was held in closed session. Members of the public safety and employee relations committees constitute a quorum of the full village board, with only two village board members who are not members of either committee: Steven Abraham, village president, and Terry Stamm, trustee.
[emember_protected] When the committees were questioned prior to the meeting about the necessity of holding the meeting in closed session, public safety chairwoman Deborah Creaser-Kipp explained the session was not open because the two committees did not want the information discussed publicly prior to the September 6 regular meeting.
The statute used to close the meeting to the public was 19.85 (1)(c), which is an exception to Wisconsin’s open meeting laws for “considering employment, promotion, compensation or performance evaluation data of any public employee over which the governmental body has jurisdiction or exercises responsibility.”
The committees were asked, given the statute used to close the session, if there was already a specific person in mind for the position under discussion. The Colfax Messenger was again told the committees did not want the information to be made public prior to being presented to the village board.
It should be noted interim police chief Mike Tietz stayed for the closed session.
When the meeting reopened to the public, no information was reported regarding decisions made while closed. The Colfax Messenger’s efforts to learn what was discussed were rebuffed, and the reporter was again told no information would be released until September 6.
Continued discussion regarding whether it was necessary to close the meeting prompted Creaser-Kipp to suggest seeking interpretation of the open meeting exemption criteria from the village attorney.
Elk Mound village clerk Pat Hahn sent Messenger staff an email after the meeting indicating she would contact the village’s attorney and provide the newspaper with the answers received.
Hahn later informed the Messenger she had not yet heard from the village attorney. No further communication arrived prior to publication.
Messenger staff contacted Dunn County District Attorney Andrea Nodolf to explain the concern and solicit Nodolf’s opinion. The district attorney responded by saying she has heard similar concerns about Elk Mound’s use of closed session in the past, and encouraged anyone witnessing violations of open meeting laws to contact the Dunn County Sheriff’s Office and file a formal complaint.
Information found online in the 2015 edition of the Wisconsin Open Meetings Law Compliance Guide indicates the open meeting exemption in question “is sufficiently broad to authorize convening in closed session to interview and consider applicants for positions of employment.”
However, the guide also specifies “Wis. Stat. § 19.85(1)(c) authorizes a closed session to discuss the qualifications of and salary to offer a specific applicant but does not authorize a closed session to discuss the qualifications and salary range for the position in general.”
The guide was produced by the Wisconsin Department of Justice and Office of Open Government, and can be accessed at www.doj.state.wi.us and clicking on the “Office of Open Government” box near the bottom of the page. [/emember_protected]