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Report: Few citations given to gov't bodies for open meeting law violations

MADISON, WI (WTAQ) - Wisconsin's nearly two-thousand state and local government bodies were given only seven citations for holding illegal secret meetings since 2009. And none were cited for illegally withholding public records.

That's according to Gannett Wisconsin Media, which also found that 17 other open meeting law violations around the state were cited but later dropped.

Gannett said there's no way to track the actual numbers of open meetings and open records violations statewide. It quoted watchdogs as saying the numbers of violations are much higher than what gets to court.

Bill Lueders of the state's Freedom of Information Council said prosecutors are very reluctant to enforce open government laws -- and he was surprised there were seven prosecutions. Fines range up to $1,000 for illegally withholding public records, and $300 for holding closed meetings that don't meet the specific exceptions of the open meeting law.

Prosecutors told Gannett it's most effective to teach local officials about their obligations to the public instead of punishing them for not doing so.

Other observers said the laws give governments a powerful incentive to comply, because if they lose, they must pay the attorneys' fees of those who sue them for such violations.

(Story courtesy of Wheeler News Service)

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