The Milwaukee County Board continues to face scrutiny after a public interest law firm sued members of the board Monday for violating Wisconsin’s open meeting laws.

The Wisconsin Institute of Law and Liberty filed a lawsuit against the board, which failed to issue public notices before action at two separate recent meetings, according to the firm’s president, founder and general counsel Rick Esenberg.

According to a WILL statement, former Milwaukee County Supervisor Joseph Rice is representing the state of Wisconsin in the case against three county board supervisors, including Milwaukee County Board Chair Marina Dimitrijevic. 

The statement said Wisconsin’s Attorney General, the Milwaukee County District Attorney and Milwaukee County Corporation Counsel are further investigating the board’s alleged open meeting violations. 

The Milwaukee County Board members are facing legal action for authorizing negotiations with a public employee union March 14, according the firm’s circuit court complaint.

“It’s not appropriate to go into closed session to appoint a negotiator,” Esenberg said. “That doesn’t meet the requirements for what can be discussed in closed session.”

Additionally, a quorum of board members attended a legislative committee meeting on the bill to reduce the board’s budget and clarify its authority without first issuing a public notice April 10, the complaint said.

Esenberg said the violation of open meeting laws without providing public notices caused WILL to file the lawsuit, rather than illegal union negotiation infractions.

“The issue in the open meetings case is not whether they were entitled to bargain or not,” Esenberg said. “The issue there is whether they were entitled to go into closed session and follow the processes for going into closed session.”

WILL Associate Counsel Tom Kamenick said in a statement the Milwaukee County Board has already brought “positive change” by issuing a public notice when board members went to a Wisconsin Senate hearing on the Milwaukee County government reform bill April 24.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported the Milwaukee County Board overruled two vetoes by Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele Monday regarding the board’s overhaul alternative to its budget and authority restructure bill.

The organization filed a different lawsuit against Madison Area Technical College last week for violating terms of Act 10’s collective bargaining restrictions including staffing, overtime, retirement pension and other prohibited negotiations.

“If you look at Act 10, it says you can only bargain on base wages,” Esenberg said. “The labor agreement that was approved by the MATC board included more than that. That is not permitted.”

One Wisconsin Institute Executive Director Scot Ross said in all MATC’s public statements, they followed the letter of the law. He added WILL’s lawsuit is an attempt to undo a contract saving taxpayers $150 million.

Ross said the organization as a whole is a well-funded “front group” to advance the “extreme pro-corporate conservative agenda.” He added WILL’s major donor, Bradley Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Grebe, was Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign co-chair. Scot noted the Bradley Center donated $500,000 to WILL in 2011.

Ross criticized “right-winged activists” like Esenberg for promoting a hands-off approach to corporate regulation while feeling they can use the legal system to help the government step in to ensure public workers cannot negotiate with their employers.

“It’s the epitome of hypocrisy,” Ross said.