Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council
April 18, 2013
Capital Newspapers Auditorium
1) Call to order. Meeting was called to order at 2:06 p.m. In attendance were Dee Hall, Steve Lovejoy, Chris Hardie, Jason Maddux, Andy Hall, Dave Zweifel, Gina Duwe, April Barker, Michael Buelow, Tom Bier, Christa Westerberg, Bill Lueders, Bob Dreps, Mark Pitsch, John Dye, Michelle Vetterkind, Sarah Karon, Sean Dwyer, Bob Drechsel, Michelle Johnson, Beth Bennett and Mary Callen.
2) Approval of minutes. The minutes were approved with the addition of Chris Hardie being in attendance at the Jan. 13, 2013, meeting.
3) Treasurer’s report. Drechsel reported that dues checks from WNA, WBA and SPJ have arrived. The current balance is $4,959.83.
4) President’s report. Lueders reported on a variety of items:
a) This year’s Sunshine Week had a little less coverage this year.
b) Pitsch will represent WisFOIC in the national FOIC convention in New Orleans. The national organization is providing support, with up to $300 covered by WisFOIC.
c) Reminder that the Watchdog Awards dinner was coming up on April 24.
5) Legislative update. Lueders reported on a variety of efforts including: A bill being drafted at the request of the state court system that would affect the rules for expunction, in unspecified ways; a bill to require state lawmakers to following the open-meetings law; a bill that would apply the open-meetings law to closed partisan caucuses at the Legislature; and a Council-backed initiative to require verbatim minutes be kept of closed sessions.
6) Legal update. The Wisconsin Supreme Court declined to reconsider its opinion in the Juneau StarTimes case, which found the newspaper had the right to see legal bills related to the firing of a police official. Westerberg said she hoped the case would wrap up soon with release of the records and ordering payment of attorneys’ fees. Sen. Jon Erpenbach sued and won to shield the identity of constituents who had written to him. The MacIver Institute plans to appeal. Dreps called the ruling “troublesome” and said would give too much discretion to records custodians. He noted that the Legislature already can “discard records as soon as they come in the door.” Dreps also reported on a case involving personal email on behalf of the Appleton Post-Crescent. He said the governmental entity gave the newspaper only businessrelated correspondence but omitted personal email. He also discussed the Wisconsin Professional Police Association lawsuit against the Wisconsin Counties Association arguing the county group should be subject to the open-meetings law because it is supported by taxpayer-funded dues, was created by statutes and its employees belong to the Wisconsin Retirement System. Dreps said the council also had been asked to provide an amicus brief in a case in which a judge closed jury selection to the public. Dreps said the case currently doesn’t focus on the public’s right to witness the proceedings but more on the defendant’s rights to have them open. Lueders suggested Dreps do some more research and report back to the board’s executive committee.
7) Issue: Feb. 27 hearing held on AB 26. Rep. Garey Bies sponsored a bill that would allow records custodians to charge to review and redact records. Lueders said the council was successful in mobilizing opposition to the bill. He said Bies expressed interest in meeting with FOIC to discuss changes to the bill. Bennett reported that the committee chair said there would be no vote. She said the discussion focused more on what to do about burdensome requests.
8) Issue: Driver’s privacy protection issues. Dreps reported on a 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that is being misinterpreted in Wisconsin to say that police departments must redact names of all people whose identities were confirmed through driver’s license records. He noted that 5-6 years ago, AG Van Hollen issued an opinion saying the federal Drivers Privacy Protection Act does not require such redactions. Dreps said the Palatine, Ill., case dealt with the display of parking tickets with personal information left on windshields. Lueders suggested doing a story about the issue.
9) Issue: Use of paper ballots in legislative votes. Lueders said such out-of-the-public eye votes are taken for substantial issues. He suggested that news media should raise the issue to the public. Westerberg noted that Dane County Circuit Judge Niess had found paper ballots violated the open-meetings law, but that decision was rendered moot by the Supreme Court’s finding that the open-meetings law doesn’t apply to the Legislature.
10) Issue: Proposed changes to rules requiring cost-benefit reports for outsourcing. Lueders said the budget bill would undercut the requirement.
11) Issue: Should the council approve a resolution from the ACLU? The ACLU’s Sarah Karon asked the group to send a resolution to Walker asking that the governor’s budget require voucher schools to follow the open-meetings and open-records laws. Karon said such private schools currently don’t fall under the openness laws. Members of the council discussed the pros and cons of getting involved in the issue. Lovejoy suggested it would face a “firestorm” of opposition from Catholic and other schools. Dreps suggested the resolution could be narrowed to require reporting to the Department of Public Instruction. Pitsch suggested that issue felt selective, given the large number of other publicly funded institutions that withhold information under a variety of circumstances. Karon suggested in the alternative that the council write a Your Right to Know column highlighting the issue. Johnson said the council should back the resolution because “It’s public money. I’d want to know how it’s spent.” Dye agreed the group should be a watchdog over public expenditures. Karon agreed to provide additional information about the requirements surrounding voucher schools. Bennett said WNA would write its own statement.
12) Presentation by UW-Extension Local Government Center. Lueders suggested WisFOIC put the center’s 60-minute presentation on its website.
13) Other topics. Buelow said the state’s “Open Book Wisconsin” website was supposed to be ready July 1, which won’t happen. Lueders referred to several stories in the packet involving open-meetings and open-records issues in Wisconsin including an unsuccessful attempt by a Columbia County supervisor to require public hearings before adopting ordinances and Lueders’ story about the secrecy surrounding people with concealed carry permits.
14) Website. Duwe said John Foust has been fielding requests from the FOIC website, most of them asking how to get records. Hardie suggested that the council have a web chat about openness and invite the public in.
15) Your Right to Know column. D. Hall volunteered to write a column on the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act. Karon said she would write a column advocating opening voucher schools up to more public scrutiny. No decision was made on the July topic.
16) Council membership. Jason Maddux of the Portage Daily Register was added to the council, along with Michelle Johnson of AP.
17) Other business. Pitsch noted the reception for journalist in residence Carrie Johnson from NPR that night. He also mentioned the upcoming SPJ Wells Memorial Key celebration featuring David Maraniss. Pitsch also discussed the controversy surrounding a photo of Sharon Wand whose husband was charged with killing three of their children and wounding her. The judge relayed a request by the DOJ’s victims’ rights office that Sharon Wand not be photographed, but the State Journal did not agree. Zweifel noted it took years to get judges to agree to allow cameras in the courtroom. The council also discussed moves by some Dane County judges to remove information from WCCA to keep jurors from seeing it. Westerberg suggested a letter to the chief judge asking to set standards for such “blackouts.” Lueders called it a “bad precedent.” The next meeting date was set for Thurs., June 27 at 2 p.m.
18) Adjournment The council adjourned at 4:05 p.m.