Tuesday, July 27, 2010

SEWRPC Warned Against Possible Open Meeting Violation

Staff at the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission want a key task force to wrap up its work "via email."

An attorney for the ACLU of Wisconsin is advising SEWRPC against that process because it would violate the Wisconsin open meeting law.

An important issue is involved: work by consultants for the SEWRPC Environmental Justice Task Force looking at possible socio-economic impacts of the agency's draft water supply recommendations - - including an endorsement of diverting Lake Michigan water to Waukesha.

The consultants held public focus group sessions and the task force has discussed the issues at length in public meetings since the winter. What remains is task force action on the consultants' work, and presumably, a vote on a resolution to express the task force conclusions.

Those conclusions will be forwarded on to the SEWRPC water advisory committee, and then on to other SEWRPC committees and the full commission.

Below are the relevant emails: the first is from SEWRPC outreach staffer Gary Korb, and the response is from ACLU attorney Karyn Rotker:

-----Original Message-----
From: Korb, Gary K. [mailto:GKorb@SEWRPC.org]
Sent: Tuesday, July 20, 2010 10:57 AM

Parties interested in SEWRPC's Environmental Justice Task Force:

In presenting findings of the Socio-Economic Impact (SEI) Analysis during
the July 8th meeting of the Task Force, Dr. Rast of UW-Milwaukee's Center
for Economic Development indicated that the Center would wrap up activity on
the SEI by July 30, 2010. He requested that final review by the Task Force
occur via email. We are providing you with the final materials which the
Task Force has received and will highlight several key points.

No Significant Socio-Economic Impacts Found/Procedural Recommendation For
the Future
The Center staff summarized the SEI of the Regional Water Supply
(RWSP) using a PowerPoint handout, which is attached above. The SEI
responds to a series of five questions, addressing population distribution,
job distribution, fiscal health and well-being of communities with
relatively large populations of low and moderate income families, housing
and land use patterns, and Federal regulations on civil rights and
environmental justice-for each of the preliminary draft recommendations of
the RWSP. In sum, no significant socio-economic impacts were found.

There is a key recommendation in the SEI for any future updates to the RWSP,
that one or more representatives be selected from either the EJTF or the
environmental justice community to serve on the technical advisory
. As noted on July 8th, the Task Force in 2008 recommended a
policy to SEWRPC-which is being implemented-stating that all future advisory
will have a member or liaison specifically representing
environmental justice interests.

Waukesha Water Utility's Diversion Application/Unlikely Socio-Economic
Impacts Under Any Alternative Also on July 8th , there was one remaining
question regarding whether or not cost differences between the alternatives
set forth in the Waukesha Water Utility diversion application would have any
differential socio-economic impacts, particularly if either of Waukesha's
groundwater alternatives would need to be implemented. The UWM Center
offered to investigate this question, comprising an evaluation of what was
perceived by some parties as a remaining "loose end" in the SEI.

The findings can be seen in the attachment above, are being fully
incorporated into Chapter 4 of the SEI after the subsection entitled
Comparison of Wholesale and Retail Water Supplies, and are reflected in the
final bullet point at the bottom of p. 6, Chapter 7 (also attached). The
UWM analysis concluded that a definitive answer was impossible due to
assumptions on cost that may change over time. However, socio-economic
impacts were unlikely, since current estimates are that future water rates
in the Waukesha Water Utility service area will be significantly higher than
in the Milwaukee Water Works service area, regardless of alternative.

Future Steps
With the additional analysis completed, UWM has indicated that its work will
be finished within the next week. The Commission would like to thank the
Center for Economic Development and its staff, particularly Policy Analyst
Kate Madison, for the extra effort involved in conducting and documenting
the SEI and addressing all EJTF questions and comments. The Task Force is
similarly thanked for the time and energy invested in the SEI review
process. Background information on the SEI and earlier chapters are
available on the UWM website: http://www4.uwm.edu/ced/sewrpc/index.cfm.

After July 30th, the findings of the SEI will be summarized, along with a
synthesis and response to all public comments received on the preliminary
draft RWSP, with documentation occurring in the recommended plan chapter
(Chapter X) of forthcoming SEWRPC Planning Report No. 52, A Regional Water
Supply Plan
for Southeastern Wisconsin. The Summary and Conclusions of the
SEI (Chapter 7) will become an appendix to the Planning Report. All of
these materials will be provided to the Regional Water Supply Plan Advisory
for review and consideration, and then forwarded to the Regional
Planning Commission


Gary Korb
Regional Planning Educator
UW-Extension working with SEWRPC


In reviewing Wisconsin's Open Meetings Law, it appears to me that conducting
the process in the manner described below violates the law. For the EJTF to
discuss, or take any action on, the SEI, it must do so at a meeting properly
noticed and open to the public as set forth in state law. Email exchages on
listserves are "meetings" within the meaning of the law, but those list
serves are not open to the public. Considering the SEI is not an action
that falls within any exemption to the Open Meetings Law.

Therefore, I request that SEWRPC act immediately to ensure that all
discussion of the SEI take place in an open meeting of the EJTF; that SEWRPC
release any information on discussions that have been held to this point in
non-public meetings; and that the final action on the SEI be delayed until
after that open meeting has occurred.


Karyn L. Rotker
Senior Staff Attorney
Poverty, Race & Civil Liberties Project
of Wisconsin Foundation

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