Damakant Jayshi

The Wausau School District on Monday said that the Board of Education members who speak during public comments are in violation of Wisconsin Open Meetings Law and would be personally liable for any consequences.

“‘Board members are advised that the Board prohibits its members from participating as speakers during the period of public comment because doing so violates Wisconsin Open Meetings Law,” said a statement issued by the Wausau School District. “A board member who participates as a speaker during the period of public comment does so at his or her peril under the law and without the endorsement of board members or the board as a whole. In addition, any statements made by a board member participating as a speaker during a period of public comment do not necessarily represent the position of the board’s members or the board as a whole and shall be in no event deemed binding to the board.’”

This part of the statement mirrors the agenda item listed for Monday’s Board meeting at the WSD Longfellow Administration Center, 415 Seymour St., Wausau.

The WSD statement comes at a time when Board President Pat McKee and member Jane Rusch have sparred over policy regarding public comments for some time now over members using public comments period to speak. McKee doesn’t favor Board members speaking during public comments period and introduced a legal opinion supporting his stance on Sept. 27. Rusch, on the other hand, has spoken during the public comments phase, saying she has been left with no recourse since her agenda items are not put up for discussion. Rusch accused McKee of introducing the legal opinion without giving members adequate time. 

In the statement, WSD said it was issued “in response to questions raised by members of the public about whether or not there is a violation when a board member signs up and participates in public comment.”

The statement further read: “Responding to those questions, the District sought the advice of legal counsel. That legal counsel, Kirk Strang, advised us that it does in fact violate Wisconsin’s Open Meetings Law…Strang will attend tonight’s meeting to further explain why that is and to review specific language in the law relative to the violations.”

The opinion was sought by WSD Board President McKee, according to an Aug. 17 email from McKee to Strang that was shared by Rusch.

Rusch has accused the Board president of hiring an attorney using taxpayer money to silence her, a charge McKee has denied. 

The meeting is set for 5 p.m. Monday.