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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A town government, a Wal-Mart and a land deal...

An entity that receives 90 percent of its funding from the public, is housed in a public building and conducts business that affects the community should be subject to the open meetings and public records law, an assistant attorney general told the Wisconsin Supreme Court today.

In a case involving the Beaver Dam Area Development Corp. and its secret negotiations to woo a Wal-Mart distribution center, Assistant Attorney General Monica Burket Brist disputed the quasi-governmental corporation's claim that it was a private entity and didn't have to tell the public when it meets or why.

"If all the negotiating is paid by the taxpayers, then public oversight ought to be given some weight, " she said.

Burket Brist added that the law would still allow these semi-public corporations to engage in confidential negotiations with firms, but that they are not exempt from the state's open records laws.

Michael Cieslewicz, attorney for the Beaver Dam Area Development Corp., or BDADC, said firms interested in relocating to a community would be less candid in discussing business plans with a development corporation if they knew documents they submitted could be part of an open records request once the discussions concluded.

"Not all negotiations result in an agreement, and if those discussions fall through then the records could be disclosed to their competition," Cieslewicz said.

Cieslewicz said that decisions on whether a quasi-governmental agency is subject to open meetings law should be made on a case-by-case basis. Two key factors in that decision should be whether the corporation has the power to bind the city to do anything and who has day-to-day control over the corporation's functions. The BDADC's voting directors are private citizens and don't have the power to bind the city, Cieslewicz said.

More here.

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