Milwaukee Riverkeeper sues County Board over open meetings law


Milwaukee Riverkeeper on Friday filed suit against the Milwaukee County Board for an alleged violation of Wisconsin open meetings law related to a discussion of the Estabrook Dam.

Riverkeeper’s suit alleges that the County Board’s committee on finance, personnel and audit met on January 29 and took up a discussion of the Estabrook Dam without providing proper notice of the agenda item to the public ahead of time.

“There was no notice given about where this meeting would be held or when,” said Jennifer Bolger Breceda, executive director of Milwaukee Riverkeeper. “As a result, the public was unable to participate in the discussion. This violates the law and any decisions made during this meeting must be legally nullified.”

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During the meeting, the committee changed its position on the removal of the dam, and instead decided to repair the structure. The full County Board had previously agreed to move forward with removal of the dam, Riverkeeper said. The organization, which advocates for clean rivers, has lobbied for removal of the dam to improve water quality and habitat.

According to Riverkeeper, the committee was considering a funding package for all of the county’s annual capital projects, and the change regarding the dam was part of an amendment to that package, which may have caused board members to believe a vote against the amendment would shut down the whole funding package.

“This carefully crafted situation manipulated the County Board proceedings and ignored public opinion that overwhelmingly supports removal of the dam,” Bolger Breceda said.

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Lipscomb, however, said there is no mechanism to provide advance notice of an amendment, but notice was given of the main issue at hand: the capital projects funding. The committee’s actions were proper, he said.

“Riverkeeper is wasting taxpayer money, as there’s no case here,” Lipscomb said. “The district attorney already passed on the complaint to corporation counsel and he declined to pursue it because he’s already stated on the record that the action was proper.

“The bottom line is the dam needs to be repaired. That’s democracy; you don’t always get your way.”

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