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Wisconsin Supreme Court declines to hear Rhinelander ‘Walking Quorum’ case

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The Wisconsin Supreme Court decided not to take up a case involving Rhinelander City Council open meeting laws.

This means the decision to dismiss the case by Oneida County Judge Michael Bloom stands, as does the subsequent Court of Appeals decision affirming Bloom.

Back in July of 2019, The Lakeland Times and Northwoods River News filed an open meetings complaint.

The newspapers believed that some members of the Rhinelander City Council at the time had violated Wisconsin’s open meeting law when they jointly signed a letter to then-city council President George Kirby.

State law prohibits a majority of officials to meet without proper public notice.

The newspapers thought enough council member met that it amounted to a public meeting- even though District Attorney Michael Schiek chose not to prosecute the issue.

In January of 2020, Judge Bloom dismissed the case.

He questioned the newspaper’s assessment that the forming of a letter constituted a government body in the process of taking action.

Judge Bloom said the newspaper did not provide enough facts to prove that the group formed a “walking quorum”.

A walking quorum occurs when a majority of council members don't physically meet, but agree on an action by communicating in other ways.

The letter sent to Kirby never appeared on a formal council agenda and no formal government action was taken on it.

The Lakeland Times appealed the decision to the District III Court of Appeals who agreed with Bloom’s decision.

The newspaper then appealed the decision to the Wisconsin Supreme Court which decided not to take up the case.

With no more avenues to appeal, the case is officially over.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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