Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council
Minutes of the July 10, 2014 meeting
Capital Newspapers auditorium
1) Call to order and introductions. The meeting was called to order at 2:04 p.m. Attending were Bill Lueders, Dee Hall, Steve Lovejoy, Andy Hall, Dave Haynes, Bob Dreps, Michelle Johnson, Michael Buelow, Chris Hardie, Tom Bier, Bob Drechsel, Mark Pitsch, April Barker and Christa Westerberg.
2) Approval of the April 17, 2014 minutes. Minutes were changed to reflect Mark Pitsch was not there, then approved.
3) Treasurer’s report. Drechsel reported that $250 in dues had come in from WNA, AP and SPJ.
4) President’s report. a) Lueders reported that the annual Watchdog Awards dinner had 100 attendees.
A. Hall reported that plans for the fifth annual awards in 2015 include a two-day investigative journalism conference in Madison or Milwaukee around April 24-25. There will be three tracks for training for students, professionals and the public and some concurrent sessions for everyone. The plan is to raise $20-$30,000 to pay for the training. There were various suggestions about which trainers to bring in and possible funding sources, including the Milwaukee Press Club, Lee, Gannett, Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, McCormick Foundation, WNA, WBA and others. b) Lueders also reported on WisFOIC’s participation in a federal lawsuit with the Reporters’ Committee for Freedom of the Press to open up “John Doe” records. That motion was ruled moot because of the 7th Circuit’s decision to release some records. Lueders said the council was not charged for its participation. c) Lueders reported that Sonora, Mexico was using the FOIC website to help craft a public-records law in that state; d) Lueders volunteered to attend the National Freedom of Information Council in St. Petersburg, Fla., Oct 23-24. He offered to pay for expenses not covered by an NFOIC scholarship. e) Lueders announced the death of NFOIC president Kenneth Bunting. f) Pitsch mentioned that he has nominated WisFOIC for 1st Amendment award given by SPJ.
5) New fee structure for members. Drechsel said it may be as long as 30 years since WisFOIC updated its dues. Currently WNA, WBA and AP pay $100 each and SPJ and Wisconsin News Photographers pay $50 each. Other organizations and public members pay nothing. The executive board is suggesting that the fees be raised to $300 each for AP, WNA and WBA, $200 for SPJ and the news photographers, and that public members of the board be encouraged to pay $100 a year – either through their organizations or personally. The council also suggested ways to create a legal defense fund. Some members had concerns about asking members, who are already donating time, to give money. Members discussed broadening membership to include other organizations supporting the council’s work, such as WisPolitics, and creating non-voting “associate” members. A. Hall and Haynes volunteered to seek out local/state donors to kick in $5,000/year. Drechsel agreed the executive committee would come back with a specific fee proposal.
6) Legislative update. Lueders suggested that political reporters use the WisFOIC wish list in quizzing candidates about their positions.
7) Legal update. The council discussed the state appeals court decision that allows record custodians to consider the “intent” of the requester in whether to release records. Westerberg said a petition for Supreme Court review has been filed. Lueders reported Sen. Jon Erpenbach will not appeal a ruling that found the names of people who write to the Legislature is public information. Dreps noted that the loophole allowing lawmakers to delete any of their records continues. Unless that changes, the ruling will tempt legislators to “deep six” their correspondence as soon as it arrives. Westerberg reported that Milwaukee County is responsible for releasing records from the “John Doe I” investigation. Haynes said the huge volume likely will be released in batches. Dreps reported that the New Richmond News won its case challenging the police department’s redaction of names and other information under the federal Drivers Privacy Protection Act. Negotiations are ongoing between various parties to again make police records available without redactions. Lovejoy reported on the Racine Journal Times’ so-far unsuccessful fight to get records of Police and Fire Commission proceedings or make the PFC document its actions. Dreps plans to ask for an attorney general’s opinion on what records a public body must create and maintain. Dreps also reported on a state law that requires requesters to directly petition municipal court judges to see their records. (In other courts, records are maintained by the clerk’s office and are presumed open unless sealed.) Dreps suggested approaching lawmakers for a narrowly targeted law change that would make such records the same as other court records.
9) Capitol press credentials. (out of order) Pitsch said questions have been raised about why the Legislature – rather than the news media – is issuing Capitol credentials. He said the task became overwhelming for working journalists during the 2011 protests so it was given back to the legislative leaders. A records request showed the Legislature had denied 8 credential requests and revoked one for the Wisconsin Citizens Media Co-op. One credential was denied for alleged failure to follow the SPJ code of ethics, another was denied because the group also does lobbying. He said efforts to figure out why some were denied weren’t successful. Pitsch emphasized that the credentials are only for access to the floor of the Assembly and Senate, not the Capitol generally. Pitsch said he planned to write to Speaker Vos and Majority Leader Fitzgerald and tell them the SPJ code isn’t intended as a litmus test for press credentials. Johnson, of the AP, declined to participate.
8) Issue: Redaction of names on DNR disciplinary records. Dreps said DNR’s decision to withhold names of those disciplined is a “troubling” trend that could infect other state agencies. He said the Lakeland Times plans to pursue further steps.
10) Other business. The council discussed a variety of issues including allegations that the Kenosha Police Department tampered with records of a man killed by police. The Wisconsin Rapids Tribune also settled with the local school district to obtain records of a $100,000 settlement it paid to the family of a disabled student harassed by the wrestling team.
11) Website. Lueders reported on efforts to put a PayPal donation button on the website.
12) Two resignations: John Dye, formerly of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, and Dan Flannery of the Gannett Wisconsin Media, who left to work for Goodwill Industries. April Barker was inducted as a member.
13) Your Right to Know column. Various ideas were discussed for columns including candidates’ positions on the WisFOIC “wish list,” redactions in DNR documents and Capitol credentialing.
14) Other business. The next meeting was set for Thurs., Oct. 9 at 2 p.m., later changed to 1:30 p.m.
15) Adjournment. The council adjourned at 4:20 p.m.