In a letter to the Racine Unified School District’s superintendent and board of education, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty has put the district on notice that its practices are violating the Open Meetings Law. In the wake of Act 10, RUSD created a committee to revise its employee handbook and gave its employees’ unions 50% of the seats on that committee, but has excluded the public from its meetings.
As reported in the Racine Journal Times, RUSD’s school board recently voted 5-4 to reject changes to the handbook that would have eliminated the committee process. The Journal Times reports the board acted against the advice of the district’s attorneys, who warned that the process is likely illegal under Act 10. The process gives employee unions guaranteed seats at the table and requires the committee members to “reach a consensus on changes, deletions and additions to the handbook.”
“The process violates the Open Meetings Law,” explained Tom Kamenick, associate counsel and open government expert at WILL. “When the government creates a committee and gives it a job to do, any meetings of that committee must be open to the public and preceded by 24-hours’ notice. That didn’t happen here.”
The letter explains in detail, citing to relevant law and Attorney General opinions, why the Open Meetings Law applies to this committee. In particular, it points out that the committee does not fall under an exception for collective bargaining, because general employee unions can no longer bargain over the terms in an employee handbook other than base wages.
“The fact that this committee is doing something that looks an awful lot like collective bargaining should make the district want to open up the meetings,” said Kamenick. “Letting the public into the discussion could allay any fears that the district is reaching wink-and-a-nod arrangements with unions to try and get around Act 10’s restrictions.”