Coronavirus Pandemic Update from Wisconsin Lakes

Source: Olson, Eric. “Lake Districts and Coronavirus Pandemic Update #1.” 24 April 2020. E-mail.

At this time, Wisconsin restrictions on travel and gatherings would preclude lake districts from holding an annual meeting. The limitations on gatherings may be relaxed after May 26, but even if that happens it is not clear if people will want to come to public gatherings, or be advised to travel across long distances simply for a meeting. Our advice is that lake district boards reschedule their annual meeting as late as possible in the summer; statute allows for annual meetings to happen as late as September 8. Some districts had long ago decided (at a previous annual meeting) to hold their meeting in the fall; we recommend they keep those dates. Delaying the annual meeting will allow more time for public health situations to be addressed and could give more time for the Governor, Attorney General, and/or the Legislature to provide better guidance for legally holding lake district annual meetings.

We are advising that lake district boards hold meetings using teleconference or webconference technology. We previously had not recommended this; the Office of Open Government in the Wisconsin Attorney General’s office has issued guidance based on the pandemic clarifying that such remote meetings are possible so long as open records and open meetings law can be followed. Their guidance can be found here: https://www.doj.state.wi.us/office-open-government/office-open-government

We are pointing people to the Wisconsin Towns Association’s listing of possible technologies to use for remote meetings. UW Extension, UW Stevens Point, and Wisconsin Lakes have been using Zoom for meetings and found the platform to be robust and user friendly. Here is the Town’s Association discussion: https://www.wisctowns.com/documents/COVID-19-Teleconference-Options.pdf

Mike Engleson at Wisconsin Lakes is taking a lead role in discussing the annual meeting dilemmas with the Legislature, Attorney General and the Governor’s office. If you have very specific challenges or ideas, we invite you to share them with Mike directly at mengleson@wisconsinlakes.org Mike is looking to work with people to develop creative ways to accomplish the annual meeting’s objectives while maximizing public health protection through social distancing. The anonymous balloting for commissioners at the annual meeting present some novel challenges with no easy solution. The statutory prohibition on absentee and proxy voting are also complicating the path to an easy solution.

We are also planning a free Zoom webinar meeting hosted by Wisconsin Lakes on Thursday May 7 at 4pm. Join us for an hour of information on the various impacts lake organizations are feeling from the Coronavirus health crisis and stay-at-home orders. We’ll cover virtual meeting best practices, including open meetings law implications for lake districts, and update you on the latest guidance for holding lake district annual meetings. We’ll also provide updates on other COVID-19 related impacts such as the status of boat landings, AIS inspection programs, surface water grants, travel restrictions and advisories, and more. Here’s the link for folks to register: https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_I5IXB6MHTl-nDnZE4iTQmg

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