Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council
Minutes of April 14, 2014 meeting
Capital Newspapers auditorium
1) Call to order and introductions. The meeting was called to order at 2:07 p.m. Attending were Chris Hardie, Dan Flannery, Dave Haynes, Bob Dreps, Michelle Vetterkind, Beth Bennett, Andy Hall, Dee Hall, Bill Lueders, Doug Wojcik, Bob Drechsel, Dave Zweifel, Mary Callen, Gina Duwe, Christa Westerberg, Michael Buelow, Mark Stodder and Gordon Govier.
2) Approval of the minutes from the 1/23/14 meeting. Minutes approved.
3) Treasurer’s report. Drechsel reported that FOIC is still waiting for annual dues from some members. Drechsel said the fund balance has dwindled to $3,271.25. Lueders said the group should discuss a new fee structure to bring in more money. A. Hall asked about how much FOIC had received in outside grants and individuals donations. The answer was nominal. Bennett and Vetterkind suggested the current $100 fee for WBA and WNA is too low. D. Hall mentioned that FOIC should seek individual donations, including from board members. Bennett questioned why FOIC was paying for amicus briefs with its limited budget. She suggested FOIC put its name on lawsuits but have the larger organizations, WNA and WBA, foot the bill. Wojcik suggested a donation button on the FOIC website. Members of the executive board agreed to discuss options.
4) President’s report. a) Lueders said the Council hopes to join the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press to intervene to unseal Walker records from John Doe II. Lueders said joining the John Doe lawsuit would be free. b) Lueders reported testifying against SB 526 to purge certain records from the state’s online court database. The bill failed. He also submitted written testimony against SB 729 to exempt UW research records from the open records law; the records exemption was removed. c) Lueders discussed the annual Opee awards, National Sunshine Week and the Gannett Wisconsin Media series that showed prosecutors rarely file open-government lawsuits against violators. d) Lueders praised grad student Jonathan Anderson for his thesis, posted on the FOIC website, on the attorney general’s role in enforcing openness laws, e) Reminder that April 23 is the annual Wisconsin Watchdog Awards. f) Lueders said a delegation from Armenia would meet with council members May 6 to discuss journalism ethics and transparency laws.
5) Legislative update. Lueders said several pieces of legislation — both good and bad — failed to pass, including bills that would have limited information on or erased records from the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access database, made the Legislature subject to the open-meetings law, and allowed donors to omit their employer’s name when contributing to legislative campaigns. A bill to allow researchers and those drafting federal grants to see juvenile criminal records passed.
6) Legal update. The media got access to thousands of emails in the John Doe-related Kelly Rindfleisch case. Dreps said a St. Croix county judge ruled against New Richmond Police and their redaction of driver information from records. The municipality will pay legal fees. Sen. Leah Vukmir agreed to turn over her ALEC records and pay legal fees to the Center for Media and Democracy. Other open-records plaintiffs won their cases, including the Voice of Wisconsin Rapids, an Appleton woman suing the local school district and the MacIver Institute, which sued Sen. Jon Erpenbach for the names of constituent contacts. Bennett said WNA has drafted language and lobbied Congress to change the Drivers Privacy Protection. She said some cities have stopped redacting.
7) Council elections. By acclamation, all of the officers were re-elected: Lueders as president, Westerberg as vice president, Drechsel as treasurer and D. Hall as secretary.
8) Legislative goals. The council discussed the following goals for legislation (more detail in packet): Requiring recording of closed meetings; ending the loophole in which job finalists must be disclosed; make state lawmakers subject to state records retention rules; make the Legislature subject to the open-meetings law; eliminate the open-meetings exemption for legislative caucuses; mandate that certain users of online court records who screen applicants for jobs or housing disclose this; end the exemption for prosecution records; allow the Government Accountability Board to discuss ongoing investigations; update the $50 threshold for the cost of searching records to $125; ban hidden electronic chatter by officials during meetings; require that public officials use government email accounts when conducting public business; establish consistent rules for retaining electronic communications; establish that records custodians can only charge for the “actual necessary and direct” cost of reproducing electronic records, rather than charging as if paper records were provided. D. Hall asked whether pursuing such a broad agenda was realistic and suggested a more limited wish list including ending the loophole on finalist disclosures, recording closed meetings and ending electronic chatter during meetings. Bennett suggested pulling together stakeholders to do an overhaul of open records and open meetings laws or having a Legislative Council study. A. Hall feared it could lead to a setback and more restrictive laws. Stodder said the media/openness advocates may have to sacrifice some ground to make other gains. Bennett suggested an “access counselor” that will help the public get records and open up meetings. Dreps said such positions generally have only advisory powers. Lueders said he would write a Your Right to Know column on the wish list.
9) Issue: Drivers Privacy Protection Act. The council discussed the Milton City Council decision to order its police department to stop blacking out drivers’ names on records.
10) Issue: State Capitol press credentials. Lueders discussed how Mark Pitsch got a list of those denied credentials. It appears some were denied by the Legislature for not following the Society of Professional Journalists’ ethics code; there are concerns as to whether this is appropriate.
11) Other issues: The town of Kendall continues to flout the open-meetings law. A handful of openness complaints around the state were discussed.
12) Website: Duwe thanked Westerberg and John Foust for handling the website in her absence.
13) Your Right to Know column. Future topics were discussed. Lueders said he would write one on the wish list. Westerberg offered to write about the Erpenbach case.
14) Other business including future meeting date. July 10 was chosen. Bennett announced Callen was leaving WNA for a new job.
15) Adjournment. The council adjourned at 3:45 p.m