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Rule on county board members recording closed meetings under review


WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAU) -- Should elected members of a governmental body be allowed to record closed-session meetings for their private use? Most members of the Marathon County Board of Supervisors voted no earlier this year, but the new rule forbidding recording might not hold up in court.

County Administrator Brad Karger says the new rule will be discussed by the Marathon County Executive Committee Wednesday afternoon. “There’s still some dispute as to whether that is an appropriate response and whether this is actually a matter of local control. They will discuss whether they want to have a judge review the situation and give them a legal determination as to whether that rule stands the test of law or not.”

The primary opponent of the new rule is County Board Supervisor Oliver Burrows, who has recorded closed session meetings before, and has been told notes and recordings of closed sessions are unacceptable. Burrows argues that an audio or video recording is the only accurate record of what took place behind closed doors. “There is no accurate record and the ordinance as passed does not allow or guarantee access by any supervisor to that recording, so everything is in the more voluntary phrase of “may” rather than “shall” and only covers county board meetings, not the other meetings of the county.”

Burrows also believes every meeting should be recorded in its entirety, and not just all or part of some meetings at the county clerk’s discretion. Many other governmental bodies record all meetings to have an accurate record of what was discussed.

Administrator Karger says the concerns he and several board members have is with tracking accountability for the recordings if they’re ever released to the public. “The current procedures allow that they can be recorded by the clerk and preserved by that clerk. The question is, what if everybody videotaped all of the closed sessions and one was released? How would you ever know who had released it? How would you ever maintain the confidentiality that’s there for legitimate business purposes if you cannot track the documents that you have?”Supervisor Burrows says part of the problem is there is no policy outlining punishment for releasing confidential material from closed meetings. He says ideally, this would be addressed and every meeting would be recorded in its entirety. Burrows says the board should, “allow any person who is legally entitled to be in that closed session to make any audio and or any video recording, maintain any notes, and to strengthen the penalties and define what the penalties would cover for release of such information.”

The Marathon County Executive Committee meeting starts at 3:00 p.m. in room C-149 of the courthouse.

(You can listen to the entire interviews with Brad Karger and Oliver Burrows by clicking the hyperlinks on their names.)