Investigation finds Wis. board of regents violated open-meetings law

WISCONSIN —- The University of Wisconsin Boardof Regents agreed last week to rescind $98,000 in board-approved executivesalary increases at the request of the state attorney general who found that theregents did not give sufficient public notice of a board meeting.StateAttorney General Peg Lautenschlager investigated the board and obtaineddocuments showing that the wording of a notice about the meeting failed tocomply with the state’s open-meetings laws. The meeting in question was a Sept.2 teleconference at which the salary increases were decided. Lautenschlager’sinvestigation was prompted by complaints that the regents had madesalary-increase decisions in private in the past.The documents obtainedby the attorney general’s office included evidence that a university officialrecommended the meeting notice “receive absolute minimum distribution,” theMilwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.Erik Christianson, directorof communications for the university system, denied the allegations, saying thatthe board followed normal procedures for giving notice.”There has been alot of misunderstandings around this issue,” Christianson said. “As far aswe’re concerned, the issue has been resolved, and we’re moving forward.” University regents agreed that the wording of the meeting announcementshould have been more detailed, but they say that the meeting was never meant tobe secret.The board settled the case by signing a contract with theattorney general agreeing to annul the pay raises and take remedial action toassure all future meetings and actions comply with Wisconsin open-meetings lawsand requirements for public notices.Christianson said the board hasalready made significant steps to improve the open-meetings process. From nowon, the board will e-mail local reporters about regular meetings andsubcommittee meetings, post all sub-committee meetings online and make allsalary decisions at regular meetings, Christianson said. Previously, onlyregular meetings were posted online. The board’s contract with theattorney general also includes providing the regent’s staff and employeesappropriate training, instruction and supervision to meet both the legalrequirements and intent of the state’s freedom of information laws.