Wisconsin school board member sues his own board, settles for 6 figures

Wauwatosa board member alleges repeated open meetings violations

Lockers at a high school.
Matt Rourke/AP Photo

A Wauwatosa school board member who sued his own board for open meetings violations has settled the case for $132,500.

The unprecedented six-figure settlement to Michael Meier comes as the Wauwatosa School District will ask voters in two November referenda to approve new funding totaling $124.4 million.

Meier filed a five-count complaint against the Wauwatosa School Board of Education in November 2022. He said the school district had several chances to settle with him for a much lower amount.

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He believes the board chose to settle for $132,500 on June 18, after Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Glen Yamahiro granted partial summary judgment to him on one claim.

Meier still serves on the school board.

“I’m not happy that all of this happened,” Meier said. “Sure it’s a win, but it’s a win that doesn’t have a lot of joy to it.

“No one admits to any wrongdoing. The money is where people have to take the message from,” he continued.

Meier says Wauwatosa repeatedly violated law

Meier alleged the board violated Wisconsin’s Open Meeting Law on at least five occasions.

The allegations included discussing a record request in closed session, holding a policy committee meeting in secret, and using a Google Docs file to collaborate outside of a properly noticed, public meeting.

Wauwatosa Superintendent Demond Means said the fact a settlement has been reached is a bonus for the children.

“We have our school board really focused on achieving our strategic plan, having a robust conversation with our community around a referendum on Nov. 5, and I think it’s an opportunity for us to move forward,” Means said.

Means said anytime there is a settlement, there is a cost.

“The fact that we are able to move on and focus on the governance issues of academic achievement and making our school environments better places for kids, that outweighs any ongoing dispute,” Means said.

Settlement resolves retaliation claims

The settlement also resolved claims that the board retaliated against Meier for speaking publicly about complaints he received from parents and record requests he had fulfilled.

Meier said before the settlement he was prepared to file a federal lawsuit against the school board on behalf of those parents for discrimination in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourth Amendment.

He believes that is another reason the board agreed to settle at this time.
Meier won a Whistleblower OPEE award from the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council in 2023.

Meier’s attorney, Tom Kamenick, who specializes in public records and open meetings and runs the Wisconsin Transparency Project, said the dollar amount in the case speaks volumes about how seriously districts should take the open meetings law.

“Lawsuits are sometimes necessary to remind school boards of the importance of transparency,” Kamenick said. “Members like Mr. Meier who are willing to stand up and object when laws are being broken are vital to accountability.”