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0729, 21 Jan 16

Nygren Advances Bill to Make WIAA Subject to Open Records


Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, announced on Wednesday that he plans to re-introduce a bill that would make the WIAA subject to open records and meeting laws.

“When decisions are made with taxpayer money, the public deserves to have a say, or at least a look into the decision room,” Nygren wrote in a column. “Policies like these, which suggest a mere suppression of speech, deserve more oversight and scrutiny, and I aim to ensure that in the future.”

While the WIAA has a huge influence on Wisconsin schools and a monopoly on public school sports in the state, I don’t believe they are a government body. They describe themselves as:

The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association is a voluntary, unincorporated, and nonprofit organization.

If that’s the case, I don’t want our government imposing open records requirements on a private organization. If they are government-sanctioned, then the taxpayers should have some insight into and oversight of their decisions.


0729, 21 January 2016


  1. John Foust

    WIAA is a 121-year-old organization, now a 501(c)(3). Their membership consists of a majority of (all of?) the public school districts and some private school districts that want to participate in WIAA state-level sports competitions. Their concept of WIAA membership for voting and board purposes says each district’s single representative is appointed by the district superintendent. Their 990 says they raised about $8.7 million ($7.5M raised as “program services”) and have net assets of $4.6M. It looks like they’re paying about $1.3M in salaries, so apart from “voluntary” members they do have paid staff and have paid lobbyists to represent their interests in Madison. Some of their PR says some of the money returns to districts, but it wasn’t clear to me how that happens.

    Wisconsin’s open records and open meetings law does have a category of “quasi-governmental corporations” that are subject to the law. The definition comes less from the statutes and more from several court cases and AG opinions, but the determinative points in the past include that it needs to be a true corporation and non-profits don’t fit that, whether the corporation serves a public function, how much funding comes from public sources, whether the by-laws reserve board seats for government officials or are appointed by a governmental body, or whether they’re using government facilities, staff, or equipment. Examples of groups falling into this category have included industrial development corporations, volunteer fire departments,

    Compare and contrast to the 2014 appeals court decision where the Wisconsin Professional Police Association (a non-profit labor association) was trying to make open records requests of the Wisconsin Counties Association (an unincorporated non-profit for county officials), mostly for records regarding finances and lobbying activities. WPPA claimed WCA lived solely on membership dues from counties, participated in the state pension system, had a board composed solely of elected county officials, and was created by action of the legislature. The three-judge opinion, authored by Kloppenburg, said the WCA wasn’t a corporation and therefore didn’t fall under the open records law. Although it’s clear that the statutes say that non-profits aren’t corporations, the WPPA fumbled its arguments and didn’t properly raise the question of whether WCA was a “government body”, so the appeals judges didn’t consider that aspect.

    If WPPA had succeeded, it could’ve affected a great number of professional associations whose memberships consisted of public employees and/or relied upon funding from public sources. There’s a professional association open to all the park-and-rec directors and staff in Wisconsin, for example. I can understand the desire to see inside these organizations that exist solely or mostly on laundered public dollars, and in this case, shape and control the policies used by public school sports throughout the state. Yes, you could argue that any public district could leave the WIAA. You might as well ask the high school to eliminate the football team.

    It’s not clear how Nygren’s bill helps clarify this area of law and public interest. I don’t see the text yet on his web page. His press release says his bill was originally introduced in 2009 by ‘Stallis Dem Tony Staskunas.

    On the other hand, in my opinion, any record that happened to be in the hands of a public school district’s appointee to the WIAA would be fair game for an open records request, and perhaps WIAA members or board members have some rights within the organization to make requests to staff for records, so that could be a path to transparency. To put it another way, though, WIAA appointees who didn’t want any info to leak could deliberately not possess any records from WIAA meetings. WIAA could also vote to declare their devotion to openness, and open their meetings and records to public inspection as if they were quasi-governmental.

  2. old baldy

    How can Nygren keep a straight face when proposing this legislation? He wants transparency for WIAA, but not our state legislative process. This is yet another example of how little this current crop of politicians respect the electorate.

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