The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council
Minutes of Jan. 14, 2010 meeting
1. The meeting was called to order and introductions made at 1:34 p.m. Members present were Anita Weier, Michael Buelow, Diane Martin Liebert, Henry Koshollek, Bob Dreps, Tom Bier, Dave Zweifel, Steve Lovejoy, Christa Westerberg, Bill Lueders, Michelle Vetterkind, Bob Dreschel, Bob Welch, Roger Schneider, Dee Hall, Andy Hall, Gina Duwe, John Foust, George Stanley.
2. Approval of the 10-15-09 meeting minutes with the addition of Anita Weier, John Foust and Gina Duwe, who were omitted from the list of members present.
3. Treasurer’s report: Bob Dreschel presented the report. The main expense in the previous quarter was a $1,500 payment to Godfrey & Kahn for an amicus brief in the Schill case.
4. President’s report: Bill Lueders asked for suggestions on ways to engage in additional outreach as individuals, suggesting that members could make open-records presentations to groups that request it. Lueders talked about plans for Sunshine Week Mar 14-20. He said Peter Fox would be the state coordinator of activities for Wisconsin. He also mentioned that the Knight Foundation has money to support freedom of information court cases. Bob Dreps indicated that such funding could cause agencies to comply with rather than fight open-records requests.
5. Opees: The council had a lengthy discussion but made no decision on a variety of possibilities for its annual Opee awards, which are given out during Sunshine Week. Lueders appointed a committee of himself, Dreps, Dee Hall and Christa Westerberg to choose the award winners.
6. Council elections: Lueders noted that the biennial election for FOIC board would be held at the April meeting. Dave Zweifel will present a slate of nominees.
7. Legislative watch: Lueders noted that eight bills were in the pipeline that could affect open-records and open-meetings issues in the state, including the proposed reporter’s shield law/whistleblower protection act, restricting access to online court records, making lists of state licensed professionals available, opening up government data held by contractors, increasing openness about Government Accountability Board findings; improved access to statements of economic interest, elimination of open-meetings exemption for legislative caucuses.
8. AG watch: Lueders highlighted three items from the attorney general’s office, including a letter addressing the issue of lengthy delays of open-records responses. The AG’s letter did not set a firm deadline for such responses. Lueders praised informal opinions in which J.B. Van Hollen found that student government groups involved in “shared governance” on UW campuses are subject to the open-meetings law; and that a website run by the Salem town chair was subject to the public-records law.
9. State Bar petition to Wisconsin Supreme Court. Council members discussed the 14-page petition, which would greatly increase the availability of expungement, remove from WCCA cases that end in dismissal or acquittal, and allow for destruction of court records. Westerberg called the reach of the proposal “breathtaking.” George Stanley indicated that such a policy could let chronic law violators repeatedly expunge their records to hide a long history of criminality. Lueders said he and Peter Fox would testify against the changes. Westerberg suggested that the council submit written comments.
10. Madison federal court case secrecy. Dee Hall summarized her efforts to open the depositions of public officials testifying in the case of former Overture Center for the Arts director Robert D’Angelo. She also indicated that at her request, the court had made some internal changes to make it more difficult for attorneys electronically filing documents with the court to seal them.
11. Legal update. Schill vs. Wis. Rapids school district. Dreps summarized the arguments before the Wisconsin Supreme Court regarding the district’s move to make teacher e-mails public and the teachers’ efforts to make them private.
12. Other issues: Steve Lovejoy said the council should watch the incident involving an e-mail vote taken by a city committee in Racine that excluded the public. Westerberg and Dreschel both cited other examples in which boards voted by mailed ballots or e-mail. Lovejoy noted that such mechanisms exclude the public.
13. Westerberg thanked Gina Duwe for keeping the website updated. Duwe reported that the RSS option is working on most pages.
14. Council membership: Jim Winter has moved to Iowa and will no longer be a member of Wis. FOIC. The council named Mark Pitsch as a new public member.
15. Your Right to Know column: Bill mentioned that Pedro Oliviera did a column about closed court cases. He said the March topic will be the Opee awards. Westerberg offered to write a column on the Supreme Court petition regarding expungement. Dreps suggested that there will be some development in pending court cases that might make for column material in April.
16. Other business including next meeting date: Lueders announced that Peter Fox would have his final meeting in April because he is leaving his position as executive director of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association. Andy Hall was asked about the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. He indicated the nearly one-year-old nonprofit was doing well.
The next meeting date was set for April 8 at 1:30 p.m., at the Capital Newspapers office. The meeting was adjourned at 2:51 p.m. (Minutes submitted by Dee Hall)