Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council
April 20, 2017 minutes
Capital Newspapers Auditorium
1. Call to order: The meeting was called to order at 2:02 p.m. In attendance were Dee Hall, Neil Johnson, John Foust, Larry Gallup, Jonathan Anderson, Orville Seymer, Sean Dwyer, Kyle Geissler, Mark Pitsch, Doug Wojcik, Andy Hall, Bob Drechsel, Tom Bier, Rusty Cunningham, Bob Dreps, Ivan Moreno, Christa Westerberg, Bill Lueders and April Barker. Guests were Chris Ott with the ACLU and Rebecca Ballweg and Paul Ferguson from the DOJ.
2. Minutes: Minutes from the Jan. 19, 2017 meeting were approved.
3. Treasurer’s report: Drechsel reported $1,000 in donations from the Milwaukee Press Club, Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and individuals. The bank balance as of April 20, 2017 was $5,392. Drechsel said the largest expense in the previous quarter was for the amicus brief in the Krueger v. Appleton School District case.
4. President’s report: Lueders reported the March 30 Wisconsin Watchdog dinner was a big success. Westerberg and Foust gave a tutorial on open government Feb. 23 for members of the Milton City Council and the public. The traveling road show on open government was reconvened for Sunshine Week. About 15-20 people attended.
5.Legislative news: Lueders reported that two bills have been introduced to expand the right to expunge court records after sentencing. Lawmakers also are considering a constitutional amendment that would allow crime victims to shield personally identifiable information in public records. Barker said she found the wording too vague and sweeping. Lueders said he hoped the AG’s office would work to minimize potential negative impacts to openness. Lueders also reported on bills that would end the requirement that public notices be printed in newspapers. He said the Wisconsin Newspaper Association also is pushing for a legislative fix to the dispute over what information can be withheld in a police report under the federal Drivers Privacy Protection Act. Lueders also warned that state lawmakers may try to again limit the public records law under the s0-called 999 motion, which allows legislators to anonymously slip measures into the budget with no hearings or advanced notice. He suggested a Your Right to Know column on the perils of the 999 motion.
6. Legal update: The Wisconsin Supreme Court sides with Milwaukee Co. Sheriff David Clarke that he is not required to release letters he receives from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Westerberg called the result “disappointing.” Lueders reported on the high court’s oral arguments in the Krueger case. Barker stated that the majority appeared to be favoring arguments by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty’s Rick Esenberg. She stated the decision could have broad ramifications for the state open meetings law. Lueders noted the Center for Media and Democracy succeeded in getting records from Oklahoma about now-EPA administrator Scott Pruitt. Lueders also reported that WILL has filed a FOIA with the U.S. DOJ for records into its investigation of voucher schools.
7. Issue for discussion: Records vs. mercy? Lueders asked for a discussion on attempts to limit records on the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access site. Proponents favor a variety of changes that would remove cases involving findings of not guilty or instances in which cases are dismissed, including for older cases. He argued that thousands of cases could be removed from the database if the WCCA Oversight Committee adopts the recommendations. The committee is expected to come up with its proposal by July or August, he said. Lawmakers say constituents tell them the widely available information makes it difficult to find work after a run-in with the law. Dreps said employers are not supposed to discriminate against those with criminal records but they are not required to say why they don’t hire someone either. Westerberg noted that a rules petition 4-5 years ago suggested getting real data and not just anecdotes about the impact of the publicly available information. Lueders said the committee has moved past that point and appears poised to make changes. Cunningham said it would be hard to prove cases existed once they are taken down. Seymer noted that the proposed changes would not affect paper files at courthouses. Drechsel said the public should be able to ask for electronic records even if they are no longer visible online. Lueders said the proposal could remove all cases in which all charges are dropped plus the 50 percent or so of restraining orders in which the victim changes his/her mind or the order is not granted. Because of pressure from domestic abuse advocates, the committee is reconsidering whether to leave restraining order requests up for 2-4 years. Lueders said the proposed one-year retention period for dismissed cases is “pretty much decided.” Lueders said he fears the proposed changes approved on a 14-4 vote are “stepping stones” for even more deletions from WCCA.
8. Issue for discussion: Milton city attorney argues members of city committees cannot attend meetings of other committees. Dreps said although it sounds strange, if a quorum of one committee shows up at another committee’s meeting, the municipality may need to post a meeting notice for the other committee. Dreps said, however, he believes the city attorney was likely overstating the problem.
9. Issue for discussion: How can the council expand its reach? Lueders said the roadshow was a good effort but a lot of work. Dreps said he would be willing to speak to civic groups about open government issues. Lueders said the council needs to develop constituencies to “carry the torch” for open government. Westerberg noted there are annual conventions for high school and college journalists at which council members could speak. Geissler noted that the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association also does a seminar for student journalists. Seymer suggested spicing up the talks to make them more entertaining. Drechsel suggested developing an open-meetings or open-records app. Foust volunteered to work on such a project. Westerberg suggested “story behind the story” sessions. Foust suggested creation of a 1-to-3-column logo that could run with the council’s Your Right to Know columns. Foust said he liked the traveling show but found the crowd sizes “small and self-selected.” Foust also offered to post informative articles on the website contributed by members. He said the website currently has low reach. Anderson suggested the council form a subcommittee to devise a strategic communication plan for the council. Bier, Dreps, Drechsel and Seymer volunteered to serve. Lueders said he is also being more aggressive in trying to get news organizations to run the monthly Your Right to Know column. Westerberg suggested the council should update its FAQs on the website. Dreps offered to do that.
10. Other issues. The council discussed several issues noted in the agenda packet. Westerberg expressed concern about the number of actions taken by mail ballot in the Legislature. That process cuts out public hearings and makes it difficult to amend bills. She said such an approach has been found in the past to violate the state’s open-meetings law. Lueders suggested the council challenge the use of mail ballots. Westerberg offered to write a YRTK column on the topic. Lueders also mentioned an AG’s letter that makes it clear that records custodians cannot charge extra if they have to create a paper copy for the purpose of redacting.
11. Website. No report.
12. Council membership. Ivan Moreno is now representing the AP, replacing Doug Glass. Rusty Cunningham joined as a Wisconsin Newspaper Association rep.
13. Your Right to Know column. Gallup volunteered to write the 999 motion column; Westerberg will write about mail ballots. July topic TBD.
14. Other business. Andy Hall thanked SPJ and FOIC for help on the Watchdog Awards dinner. Next year’s event is tentatively scheduled for April 19, 2018 at the Madison Club. Seymer said Steve Ballmer of Microsoft plans to release a nationwide database called “USA facts.” The next meeting was set for 2 p.m. on July 13, 2017.
15. Adjourn. The council adjourned at 3:50 p.m.