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State of Wisconsin
Government Accountability Board

Local Officials

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Overview of statutes pertaining to local officials.

Section 19.59, Wisconsin Statutes, creates a code of ethics for local government officials. The statute also authorizes a county, city, village, or town to create its own code of ethics in addition to the state code.  Some key definitions applicable to s.19.59 are found in s.19.42, Wisconsin Statutes.


Other statutes that apply to local officials include ss.946.11, 946.12, and 946.13, Wisconsin Statutes, pertaining to misconduct in public office and private interests in official actions.

Who's covered?

Section 19.59, Wisconsin Statutes, applies to all political subdivisions and special purpose districts of the state, as well as instrumentalities and corporations of the political subdivisions and special purpose districts.  Within those local units of government, the statute covers elected officials, individuals appointed to a position for a specified term, individuals who serve in a position at the pleasure of  the local government's governing body or executive, and  county administrators and city or village managers.

What are the rules?

In general, the ethics code contains two kinds of restrictions.  The first restricts an official from personally profiting from holding public office, apart from the receipt of salary and expenses to which the official is entitled.  The second restricts an official from participating in decisions in which the official has a personal financial interest.  More specifically:

Accepting items
A. A local public official may not accept items or services of substantial value for private benefit, or for the benefit of the official's immediate family or associated organizations, if offered because of public position.

B. A local public official may not accept (and no one may offer or give) anything of value that could reasonably be expected to influence the official's vote, official actions or judgment.

C. A local public official may not accept (and no one may offer or give) anything of value that could reasonably be considered a reward for any official action or inaction.

Controlling conflicting interests
A. A local public official may not take official action substantially affecting a matter in which the official, the official's immediate family, or associated organization has a substantial financial interest.

B. A local public official may not use office or position to produce a substantial benefit for official, family, or associated organization.

How to file a complaint.

Violating the code of ethics can subject a local public official to civil or criminal penalties.  The statute is enforced by local district attorneys.  An individual may call or write the district attorney in the county in which an alleged violation has occurred.  An individual may also file a verified complaint with a district attorney.   A verified complaint is a notarized, sworn statement of the alleged facts to the best of the individual's knowledge and belief.  If a district attorney fails to bring an action within 20 days of receiving a verified complaint, the complainant may petition the attorney general to bring an action.

How to Seek Advice

Code of Ethics for Local Public Officials

Guidelines for Local Officials

Advisory Opinions