Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council
July 13, 2017 meeting minutes
Capital Newspapers Auditorium
1. Call to order and introductions. In attendance were Dee Hall, Tom Kamenick, Jason Joyce, John Foust, Andy Hall, Jonathan Anderson, Orville Seymer, Ernie Franzen, Kyle Geissler, Tom Bier, Mark Pitsch, Rusty Cunningham, Bob Dreps, Bob Drechsel, Christa Westerberg, Bill Lueders and April Barker with guests Dustin Brown, Chris Rickert, Paul Ferguson, Daniel Lennington and Rebecca Ballweg.
2. Approval of minutes from 4/20/17 meeting. Minutes approved.
3. Treasurer’s report. Drechsel reported a balance of $5,391.88.
4. President’s report. a) Lueders noted that FOIC had joined with AP, WNA, the Wis. State Journal and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to push back against effort to exclude the public from a court hearing featuring an un-redacted use-of-force video. b) Lueders said a Portage Co. group is seeking a speaking for a Sept. 21 event on open government. c) Lueders said FOIC has been invited to attend a Wisconsin Broadcasters Association student seminar in February. He wondered whether FOIC could produce a short video aimed at students similar to what the Florida FOIC did. Not on agenda: Lueders recapped the final meeting of the WCCA oversight committee which agreed, over media objections, to recommend that all dismissed cases disappear from the online court database between six months and two years after they are dismissed. In response to questions, Lueders said the final decision would be made by the director of state courts. Lueders also said the national FOIC meeting will be Oct. 13-14 in Nashville, TN., and that we would like to send a representative. d) Lueders said his responsibilities at The Progressive have grown and he will have less free time to devote to FOIC and he will consider stepping aside if necessary.
5. Legislative news. Lueders reported that language to remove the requirement that legal notices appear in newspapers has been taken out of the state budget and similar standalone bills have stalled in the Legislature. WNA is working on a compromise bill on records redactions due to the Drivers’ Privacy Protection Act. After the budget is passed, WNA plans to circulate a bill that would require verbatim recordings of closed sessions. Lueders also mentioned that a bill to allow certain people convicted of minor crimes to have their records expunged has passed through committees in the Assembly and Senate.
6. Legal update. The Wis. Supreme Court votes against DOJ in case involving the agency’s distribution of incorrect information in criminal background reports. Lennington mentioned that DOJ is working on a technological fix to the problem. The court also ruled that the Appleton School District should have opened curriculum committee meetings to the public. And a pending case involving Madison Teachers Inc. raises the question about whether public bodies can consider the identity of a requester in deciding whether to release records. Westerberg noted there is also a dispute about legal fees. Other issues: Lueders noted that DOJ had declined to turn over records of decertified law enforcement officers. As part of this national effort, 31 states turned over records. Wis. was the only state to issue a blanket denial. Ferguson explained that officers can become recertified and that some have worked undercover and releasing their names could compromise or endanger them. Lueders reported DHS is withholding the names of people who have commented on plans to require FoodShare recipients to be drug tested to protect recipients’ legal privacy rights, but Lueders questioned whether those were waived.
8. Issue for discussion: Can government officials block access to their official social media accounts? Dreps said he has not seen the issue litigated but he equated the action to blocking a reporter from a press conference. He said if members of the public are blocked based on the content of their message, that would violate the First Amendment.
7. Issue for discussion: DOJ is now posting snapshots of pending records requests. Is there such a thing as being too open? Lueders said some reporters are concerned that the move could undercut enterprise stories. Lennington said the impetus was the governor’s executive order to provide as much information online as possible. He noted that DOJ has six people working full time devoted to open government. Lennington said one advantage of posting responses online is that it could avoid duplication and streamline responses, especially when multiple requests for the same records come in. Drechsel questioned why DOJ was putting the names of requesters online. Lennington said public records request are themselves public; however, requesters wishing anonymity can request the records that way. Lennington added that the agency will use a balancing test in determining whether to redact phone numbers and email addresses. A. Hall said some requests could be considered defamatory. Lennington said only a handful of the 750 requests a year fall into that category and could be dealt with.
9. Issue for discussion: How can the Council extend its reach? Anderson reported the efforts of a Wis. FOIC committee including Bier, Drechsel, Dreps, Seymer and Anderson to help people understand and use Wisconsin’s public records and open meetings law and to cultivate public appreciation for the value of transparent government. The steps fall into the following categories: 1) Refresh the WisFOIC website to fix broken links and make the site more attractive and user friendly; 2) Develop a free phone app for people to use when they encounter access problems; 3) Bolster social media engagement; 4) Expand the reach of the Your Right to Know column; 5) Partner with like-minded groups on events/forums/panel discussions; 6) Publicize WisFOIC speakers’ bureau and offer to speak to a variety of groups; 7) Publish a monthly e-newsletter; 8) Develop a multimedia campaign, especially for Sunshine Week; 9) Author and sign onto advocacy letters supporting or opposing actions by the government; 10) Continue to take legal action; 11) Work with legislators and other policymakers on measures implicating government transparency; 12) Publish original research and white papers on transparency issues; and 13) Take advantage of Google Ads, which offers $10,000/month in free advertising to nonprofits. The committee suggested more help that would cost money would be needed to implement. First priorities: website updates; bolster social media and expand column reach.
10. Other issues: Several articles included in the packet cover the Vilas County DA’s complaint against the Boulder Junction board; the shoddy handling of public records requests by the Dept. of Veterans Affairs; and secrecy surrounding both Supreme Court administrative conferences and the Foxconn deal.
11. Website and 12. Membership. Nothing new.
13. Your Right to Know. Various column ideas were discussed for the next three months.
14. Other business. Next meeting was set for 2 p.m. Oct. 26.
15. Adjournment. Meeting was adjourned.