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Town of Waukesha supervisor retains attorney alleging open meetings violation

Chairwoman denies any wrongdoing and says review will confirm that

Nov. 14, 2012

Town of Waukesha Chairwoman Angie Van Scyoc said she had “no idea” there were any concerns on the Special Town Board meeting that was held last month.

But Town Supervisor Everett German has brought forth his concerns as he has retained an attorney to alleged open meetings violations.

The Town Board will discuss this at a Town Board meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday at Town Hall, W250 S3567 Center Road, Waukesha.

In a letter sent by Paul E. Bucher of Bucher Law Group, to Van Scyoc on Oct. 25, it states that the Oct. 16 meeting was, apparently, called on less than two hours’ notice and potentially violates the open meetings law.

“The subject matter of that meeting was not intended to avail itself on less than 24 hours’ notice,” the letter states. “This was certainly not an emergency and it was inappropriate to call a meeting potentially less than two hours notice.” 

According to state statute, at least a 24-hour notice of a meeting is required; however, it states, if 24 hours is impossible or impractical for good cause, a shorter notice may be given, but in no case may the notice be less than two hours.

It goes on to say that this “good cause” provision allowing short notice should be used sparingly and only when truly necessary.

The only item on the agenda was to possibly take action on the City of Waukesha's water service area.

Bucher also said emails by Van Scyoc to board members discussing town business constitute a walking quorum.

After stating he was submitting an open records request, Bucher said “we may refer this matter for prosecution or bring forth a separate civil action seeking enforcement, attorney’s fees and costs relative to the violation of the open meetings law.”

Bucher has asked for copies of all audio and/or video recordings of the meeting.

He is also asking for further request copies of all emails generated by Van Scyoc in the last six months.

Van Scyoc replied in a letter dated Nov. 6 that the cost to have legal counsel review the number of emails included in the request represents significant tax dollar expenditure to the Town of Waukesha tax payers.

The chairwoman said there are more than 6,000 emails involved in the six-month time frame request.

While Van Scyoc said to Bucher she is “quite frankly delighted and relieved, for a number of reasons, that you have been retained by Everett German,” she added that his review will confirm that the Town of Waukesha complies with both open meetings law and open records law.

She said this review will also “assist German in understanding the process and legal requirements.”

German retaining Bucher caught Van Scyoc off guard.

“Prior to receiving your letter, I had no idea he had any concerns on this topic and at this point (Town) Attorney (Hector) de la Mora and I do not know what is at issue,” Van Scyoc said. “Mr. German is fully aware of his ongoing actions that have brought about such an unpleasant and difficult environment and as such it is fully within his power to eliminate it.”

Van Scyoc said she did in fact clear the meeting with counsel and it was fully noticed more than two hours prior to the meeting (the meeting was posted at 12:42 p.m. and the meeting did not start until 2:45 p.m.).

She said there was a budget workshop at 1 p.m. that day and at the 2:45 p.m. time set for the Special Town Meeting, everyone participating moved from the Town’s conference area to the meeting area.

“As I look back, it was a no-win situation” Van Scyoc wrote in her letter to Bucher. “Had I not called the meeting, the Board would have been caught unaware of the actions of others and wondered why I was discussing, with the media, work done in closed session.

"I erred on the side of informing the Town Board and the public in a public venue, and I stand by it."

She added that she did not commit any violations and that this was the first and only time she has ever utilized the two-hour time frame in the last 2.5 years.

“No willful or knowing actions have been taken by the Town staff or myself to violate the law,” Van Scyoc said. “In fact, over the last 2.5 years that I have been in public office we have taken significant steps to improve the record keeping and transparency of our town government processes.”

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