Revelations surfaced over the weekend that Dane County Sup. Sharon Corrigan began setting up “informal conversations” between county board leadership and leaders of some of the board’s key committees when she took over as board chairwoman in 2014.
Emails obtained through an open records request by former Madison City Council member Brenda Konkel show 17 “preboard meeting chairs meetings” were arranged in 2019, involving from seven to 10 supervisors who chair several of the committees in the county’s sprawling committee structure.
The meetings were detailed in a story published Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020 by the Wisconsin State Journal. The county’s lead attorney, Marcia MacKenzie, said in the article she had not previously been aware of the chairs meetings and so had not been asked for her opinion on whether they passed legal muster. But she said they do not violate the open meetings law because the group does not constitute a formally created government body -- a statement that is just shocking by itself.
We think the opinion of Tom Kamenick, an attorney and founder of the Wisconsin Transparency Project, says it all.
“The chair of the Dane County Board can’t just create a new committee of government officials, call them together for regular meetings, discuss government business, and ignore the requirements of the open meetings law,” Kamenick said in the article. “It sounds like they’re going over important information and hashing out details outside of the public eye so they don’t have to have those discussions during the public board meetings.”
Furthermore, Corrigan said until 2014, liberal members of the allegedly nonpartisan Dane County Board of Supervisors had for years conducted private caucus meetings.
The meetings stopped as the board’s liberal majority increased after the adoption of new County Board district maps in 2011 that conservatives complained liberals had gerrymandered to their advantage.
The very fact that closed meetings of any kind were taking place should evoke the images of the old party bosses meeting in smoke-filled rooms to dictate issue positions.
But the fact that not only the county board chair, but also the county’s lead attorney, think this is acceptable behavior by elected officials should be most alarming. Not to mention the unposted “caucus” meetings of the liberal county board majority which had been going on for years with the tacit approval of county board “leadership.”
Perhaps what is most ironic is the fact that in March, county board supervisors released a 17-page report that sought to get county residents more engaged in government.
This latest revelation shows that, once again, transparency in government appears to be a work of pure fiction trotted out by elected officials during election years under the guise of diversity and inclusion.
In practice, it certainly appears our county officials were far from transparent.
Nothing short of a full investigation by the Wisconsin Attorney General’s office into numerous county violations of the Open Meetings Law will serve notice on so-called government leaders that if similar behavior is attempted again, it will be met with severe consequences.
Anything less ignores the very law those “officials” swore to uphold.