Bostwick created advisory committees that failed to provide notice or meet publicly
The Wisconsin Transparency Project, on behalf of local resident and taxpayer Sheryl Hengeveld, has filed a verified Open Meetings Law Complaint against Richard Bostwick, Chairman of the Rock County Board of Supervisors. The complaint was filed with the District Attorney for Rock County and the state’s Attorney General.
Wisconsin’s Open Meetings Law (Wis. Stat. §§ 19.81-19.97) places strict requirements on all governmental bodies to ensure their meetings are open and accountable to the public. The law requires, among other things, that all meetings be properly noticed with the time, location, and intended subject matters of the meeting and that all meetings be held open to the public at all times unless a valid exception applies.
On at least three occasions over the past two years, Bostwick created committees that met in secret to make recommendations for appointments to government positions. In 2021, he created one or more committees to recommend replacements for two resigning board members. Despite scrutiny and public criticism of shutting the public out of the process, he did the same thing recently to come up with a slate of appointees to the County’s Board of Health.
“Rock County corporation counsel claimed these committees weren’t subject to the Open Meetings Law because they were only advisory,” explained Tom Kamenick, President and Council of the Wisconsin Transparency Project. “That is wrong. The Wisconsin Supreme Court held in State v. Swanson, a case over 40 years old, that advisory bodies have to provide notice and meet in open session.”
The Attorney General’s Wisconsin Open Meetings Law Compliance Guide, a publicly-available document, states: “Purely advisory bodies are therefore subject to the law, even though they do not possess final decision making power, as long as they are created by constitution, statute, ordinance, rule, or order.” “The term ‘rule or order’ has been liberally construed to include any directive, formal or informal, creating a body and assigning it duties.”
Sheryl added, “All we want is transparency. The outcome of these meetings is not trivial and we have no indication how they are coming to their conclusions or if the appointments are politically motivated rather than in the best interest of the constituents. It is even more disheartening that despite being warned about these illegal activities, Chairman Bostwick is adamant about holding these meetings outside of public view. It is critical for our elected officials to uphold the law and act with integrity.”
The Rock County District Attorney has 20 days to decide whether to bring a complaint seeking forfeitures of up to $300 against Bostwick and the members of the committees for each violation. If the District Attorney fails to act, Hengeveld has the right to prosecute on behalf of the state, which could also make the county liable for her attorney fees and costs.