site search by freefind



About | Podcast | Report corruption | Subscribe



Police Commissioners Blindsided by Sunshine


SHOREWOOD, Wis. (July 15, 2021) -- Transparency reared its ugly head at the Shorewood Police Commission meeting today, and nearly everyone was caught unprepared. Video

The commission, meeting for the first time in nine months, elected Rick Cole president by a 4-1 margin and unanimously named Commissioner Jennifer Anderson secretary. But the five members could not agree on much else except adjourning.

There was bickering over incomplete or incorrect minutes; whether the commission should meet more frequently; whether citizens will be able to address the commissioners; whether the police chief should be present at closed sessions; and who should be able to add items to the agenda.

After an hour, Commission President Michael Y. O’Brien and Commissioner Craig Bulluck announced they had appointments and could not stay any longer.

The tense, awkward and sometimes confrontational virtual Zoom meeting was dominated by the newest commissioner, Chuck Carlson, who questioned why members were not provided agenda material or background on measures they were being asked to approve. The only documents commissioners received were the agenda, and minutes from the Oct. 6, 2020, meeting, which presented the first bone of contention. According to Carlson, the minutes did not correctly or fully memorialize the body’s business.

Outgoing Commission President Michael O’Brien several times appeared to grow frustrated and impatient with Carlson, balking at some of the questions and observations about what the minutes should contain. Ultimately, O’Brien and Commission Secretary Rick Cole agreed that Carlson could submit his proposed corrections as a list for consideration at a future meeting.

Another transparency issue that put Carlson at odds with the longer-serving commissioners was his questions about the justification for going into a closed session to discuss an employment process. According to Wis. Stat. 19.85(1)(c), a closed session may be held for “[c]onsidering employment, promotion, compensation or performance evaluation data of any public employee over which the governmental body has jurisdiction or exercises responsibility.”

When Carlson asked questions about the closed session and other matters, commissioners responded several times that he should ask the village manager. Carlson asked why the commission was meeting behind closed doors “regarding the Captain promotional process,” commissioners removed that from the list of secret topics.

Carlson also inquired whether a police position that was to be filled was a new position, pointing out that a recent, $50,000 study of the department suggested the number of officers should be cut from 25 to 23. Nimmer said the new position would put the force at 24. Nimmer said the village board had approved the additional position despite the $50,000 study.

At one point, Nimmer, who has applied for a job as chief in Brown Deer in the midst of his department’s reorganization, told Carlson that the justification for something was that it had always been done that way.

But before the closed session could begin without the policy discussion, O’Brien pulled the plug on the meeting, announcing he had an appointment.

State case law is clear about some of the matters raised by Carlson, and he may have saved his colleagues – and taxpayers – some expenses.

Carlson asked whether the closed meetings were recorded, and whether the minutes would be released to the public a later date. Commissioners did not know. Furthermore, the commission has no lawyer present to advise members on what is legal. Apparently, such questions are to be directed to Village Manager Rebecca Ewald, who is not an attorney.

According to state law, the commissioners would be subject to personal liability for violating the open-meeting requirements had the discussion taken place out of public view.

According to a sampling of Wisconsin case law:

Although a meeting was properly closed, in order to refuse inspection of records of the meeting, the custodian was required by s. 19.35 (1) (a) to state specific and sufficient public policy reasons why the public interest in nondisclosure outweighed the public's right of inspection. Oshkosh Northwestern Co. v. Oshkosh Library Board, 125 Wis. 2d 480, 373 N.W.2d 459 (Ct. App. 1985).

The balance between protection of reputation under sub. (1) (f) and the public interest in openness is discussed. Wis. State Journal v. UW-Platteville, 160 Wis. 2d 31, 465 N.W.2d 266 (Ct. App. 1990). See also Pangman v. Stigler, 161 Wis. 2d 828, 468 N.W.2d 784 (Ct. App. 1991).

A “case" under sub. (1) (a) contemplates an adversarial proceeding. It does not connote the mere application for and granting of a permit. Hodge v. Turtle Lake, 180 Wis. 2d 62, 508 N.W.2d 603 (1993).

A closed session to discuss an employee's dismissal was properly held under sub. (1) (b) and did not require notice to the employee under sub. (1) (b) when no evidentiary hearing or final action took place in the closed session. State ex rel. Epping v. City of Neillsville, 218 Wis. 2d 516, 581 N.W.2d 548 (Ct. App. 1998), 97-0403.

The exception under sub. (1) (e) must be strictly construed. A private entity's desire for confidentiality does not permit a closed meeting. A governing body's belief that secret meetings will produce cost savings does not justify closing the door to public scrutiny. Providing contingencies allowing for future public input was insufficient. Because legitimate concerns were present for portions of some of the meetings does not mean the entirety of the meetings fell within the narrow exception under sub. (1) (e). Citizens for Responsible Development v. City of Milton, 2007 WI App 114, 300 Wis. 2d 649, 731 N.W.2d 640, 06-0427.

Section 19.35 (1) (a) does not mandate that, when a meeting is closed under this section, all records created for or presented at the meeting are exempt from disclosure. The court must still apply the balancing test articulated in Linzmeyer, 2002 WI 84, 254 Wis. 2d 306. Zellner v. Cedarburg School District, 2007 WI 53, 300 Wis. 2d 290, 731 N.W.2d 240, 06-1143.




About: This non-partisan website is published and updated from time to time by residents of Shorewood, Wis., to advance citizen involvement and understanding of how their government works, what it does and how they can participate in democracy.


Podcast: Follow our podcast at



Public Corruption: Report violations to the U.S. Department of Justice Public Integrity Unit.


Subscribe: Get free updates via your email


Contact: Published by Geoff Davidian, 4101 N. Prospect Ave., Shorewood, WI 53211 – Phone and text (414) 433-7773.

Return to top