Since November 2011, UW officials, employees and consultants have held closed meetings for the purpose of developing new personnel policies. The Wisconsin University Union (WUU), an employee education and advocacy organization of academic staff and faculty, filed a petition on March 20th requesting that the Attorney General issue an Opinion as to whether these closed meetings violate the state’s Open Meetings Law.
Before filing the petition with the Attorney General, WUU twice wrote to Gary Sandefur, Dean of the College of Letters and Science and Chair of the Human Resources (HR) Design Project Advisory Committee, requesting that the meetings of the committee be opened to the public. The first request was denied, the second ignored.
On March 20th, WUU issued the following statement:
Wisconsin’s Open Meetings Law allows citizens to observe government officials as they create policies that affect citizens’ lives. Employees appointed to a policy making or advisory body by senior government officials are as subject to the law as are elected officials. Open meetings are especially important when employees, managers and consultants are engaged in policy making that will govern every aspect of the employment relationship for 16,000 employees. These meetings should not be closed to interested and concerned members of the public.
In addition to the apparent violation of the law, the closed meeting policy is in sharp contrast to the rhetoric used by the HR Design Project, which states that it values “transparency.” This statement runs contrary to the fact that few committee documents are available to the public and membership on the 11 work teams is overwhelmingly populated by human resource officials and senior managers.
We are prepared to use all available legal means to ensure that UW officials comply with the law. We trust that the Attorney General will issue an Opinion that unequivocally finds that these meetings be opened. Failing that, we are prepared to file a complaint with the Dane County District Attorney or file a lawsuit.
Background: The HR Design Project is a two-year initiative that will redesign the entire personnel policy and human resource agency for all 16,000 employees on campus. The HR Design Project began as a result of the state budget bill that ended collective bargaining agreements and civil service protections for 5,500 classified staff, 6,500 academic staff, 2,000 faculty and 2,000 graduate assistants. The new policies and procedures developed under the HR Design Project will replace these repealed laws, labor agreements and policies and cover policies such as compensation, benefits, layoff, promotion, recruitment, etc.