The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council
Minutes of July 16, 2009 meeting
1) Call to order
The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council was called to order on Tuesday, July 16, 2009 at 1:31 p.m. Present were Bill Lueders, Diane Martin, Dee Hall, Michael Buelow, Dave Zweifel, Mary Callen, Anita Weier, Gordon Govier, Christa Westerberg, Michelle Vetterkind, Tom Bier, Andy Hall, Doug Wojcik, Jennifer Peterson, Bob Drechsel, Bob Dreps, Dick Record, Roger Schneider and Gina Duwe.
2) Approval of minutes
The minutes fo the April 21, 2009 meeting were approved.
3) Treasurer’s report
Treasurer Bob Drechsel gave the report. The only activity in the previous quarter was $175 for conference registration for the National Freedom of Information Coalition, $50 for a dues payment from SPJ, and a trust-fund refund from the Godfrey & Kahn law firm. The balance as of 7-16-09 was $6,879.49.
Dreschel indicated that Wis. FOIC is still trying to reach the Wisconsin Press Photographers’ Association for dues.
Dreschel asked for permission to invest Wis. FOIC funds in a money market fund with Associated Bank at 1.6 percent, with a minimum $1,000 balance. Lueders moved and Diane Martin seconded to approve the proposal. The motion passed.
4) President’s report
Bill Lueders, president, indicated that the council has been asked to send a speaker to the Wisconsin Counties Association annual meeting.
Lueders also asked whether there was interest in printing up additional compliance guides issued by the Attorney General’s office. He indicated that an updated version is scheduled to be released this fall. There was discussion about getting the guide printed by a WNA member on newsprint or heavier stock paper. Mary Callen from WNA offered to see whether any members were interested. Dreps suggested that every newsroom should have a copy of the 60-page guide.
Lueders presented two letters sent to the attorney general’s office asking for clarification on two points: What is a reasonable copy fee for an open-records request? and What constitutes an unreasonable delay when it comes to responding to an open-records request? In both cases, the AG’s office declined to weigh in. In the copy-fee issue, AAG Mary Burke noted that the New Richmond P.D. was revising its fee policy and that “I trust the revised policy will resolve your concerns.” In the second case involving a request made by a citizen request for records, AAG Jennifer Sloan Lattis responded that a reasonable time for response would depend on the nature of the request, staffing and resources issues and other related concerns. Lueders described the two responses as “taking a pass” on the questions. Lueders asked members to look for possible test cases in which a records requester is claiming an unreasonably long delay in response time.
Bob Dreps indicated that although there are penalties in the law for delayed responses, he’s not aware of any case in which that point was litigated.
5) Report from the national Freedom of Information Coalition conference
Christa Westerberg reported on her attendance at the National FOIC conference in St. Paul. She said Wisconsin “stacks up well” against many other states in its openness law. She reported that the national FOIC organization is well funded and has grants available to local organizations to form coalitions, pay for staff and many other activities. She suggested a grant to upgrade the Wis. FOIC Web site to create a searchable database of AG opinions. She also indicated that a local organization such as ours could offer to host the national convention, with revenues around $10,000 to the hosting group. She presented the members with a two-page detailed report on the highlights of the conference. She cited the Virginia FOI site as a model of the various technologies groups can use to reach out to the public and media. Her three recommendations: Send someone to the FOI conference next year (scholarships are available), apply for more NFOIC grants and consider hosting the NFOIC convention in the next few years.
6) FOIC Legislative agendaLueders presented the updated Wis FOIC legislative agenda. One of the highlights was the proposed shield law. About 10 people spoke in favor of the bill at a legislative hearing, including FOIC members Dave Zweifel and Bob Dreps, with no one speaking in opposition. Sponsors are state Reps. Joe Parisi and Pat Kreitlow. The bill would protect the right of the media to protect confidential sources. Lueders urged members to support and publicize the bill. There was discussion about what constituted a member of the media. Dreps said the bill defines the protected individual as “a regular reporter of the news for a business or organization.” Anita Weier asked if freelancers would be covered. Dreps said so long as they were gathering news, freelancers should be covered.
Lueders also highlighted a bill sponsored by Rep. Spencer Black that would eliminate the requirement that people seeking to review public officials’ statements of economic interest identify themselves, and the person who filed the statement be notified. Jennifer Peterson also reported that the Journal Sentinel was working with Sen. Jon Erpenbach to get access to lists of people licensed by the state Department of Regulation and Licensing.
7) Amicus brief on Wisconsin Rapids teacher e-mail case
The members of FOIC voted unanimously to have Bob Dreps write a friend of the court brief urging the state Supreme Court not to interpret the open-records law as allowing a group of teachers to block access to their emails by labeling them as “personal.” Dreps said it’s important to clarify state law when it comes to this exclusion. Dreps said the teachers were trying to turn a records-access statute into one that forces a governmental authority to block access to records. Peterson indicated that by defining the case as one of a right of privacy, the court could rule on that basis and weaken the existing openness protections in the law. Dreps offered to cap the cost of the brief at $6,000. Peterson said she could help write the brief as part of her duties as in-house counsel at Journal Communications. Roger Schneider agreed to forward a request for funding to the Associated Press’ attorneys in New York. Michelle Vetterkind said the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association would help pay for the brief. The Wis. FOIC executive committee will follow up on the details. 8) Maintenance of file of AG letters
Lueders proposed that someone maintain a file of letters written to and from the attorney general’s office on open records and open meetings matters. Dreps said the most important letters already are archived on the FOIC Web site, and saw no need to create a parallel system. Dreps suggested that the AG’s office probably already archives the letters. Lueders agreed to determine what system that office uses.
9) Update on Web site
Gina Duwe reported that she has added a speakers’ bureau of Wis. FOIC members for groups that wish to hear about open records and open meetings issues.
10) Legal update
Dreps highlighted the July 16 ruling by the Wisconsin Supreme Court that said the state cannot block the release of names of employees covered by certain bargaining agreements that call for the state to keep their names confidential. Dreps said the 6-1 decision determined that “you can’t amend the open-records law through collective bargaining.” He called it overall a “very welcome decision.” The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel brought the case against the state Department of Administration. The court, in the same decision, also decided a case in which the Wisconsin DNR sought to block release of the names of some of its employees to the Lakeland Times. Peterson said many reporters have face obstacles getting the names of public employees because of collective bargaining agreements.
11) Legislative update
Lueders discussed AB 340, which would impose a fee on those using the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access electronic database. He predicted the bill would likely fail. He also said some lawmakers are considering a bill that would set standards for when a private contractor is considered a public records custodian in the wake of the Wiredata state Supreme Court decision.
12) Other issues 13) Council membershipThe council unanimously agreed to add Andy Hall, executive director of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism to the FOIC board. Lueders moved approval and Michael Buelow seconded. 14) Your Right to Know Column Lueders said a column is needed for next month. Dee Hall offered to send a column written on open-records request delays written by students. Dreps said he could work up a column summarizing the recent Supreme Court decision involving the privacy of employee names. 15) Other businessThe next meeting was set for 1:30 p.m. Thurs. Oct. 15 at the Capital Newspapers auditorium. 16) The meeting adjourned at 3 p.m.