Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council
Minutes July 21, 2016 meeting
Capital Newspapers auditorium
- Call to order and introductions. The meeting was called to order at 2 p.m. In attendance were Dee J. Hall, Rusty Cunningham, Beth Bennett, Michelle Vetterkind, Tom Bier, Dave Zweifel, Andy Hall, Orville Seymer, Mark Pitsch, Larry Gallup, Neil Johnson, Bob Dreps, Paul
Johnson, Rebecca Ballweg, Paul Ferguson, Bill Lueders, Christa Westerberg, April Barker, Jonathan Anderson, David Haynes, Sheila Plotkin, Rebecca Wallig. Lueders gave a history of the FOIC, which was founded in 1978. WisconsinEye was taping.
- Approval of minutes from 4-7-16 meeting.
3) Treasurer’s report. Lueders reported a balance of $6,800. He reported that FOIC broke even on the traveling road show with about $1,500 in expenses. He thanked the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism for its $500 in support. An additional $1,100 came in cash donations.
4) President’s report. a) Lueders reported that the Watchdog Awards dinner was well attended. He praised the Watchdog Award winner Bob Dreps as a “tremendous resource” for people seeking openness in government. Dreps clarified that he is not retiring and will remain “of counsel” with Godfrey & Kahn and available for consultation on openness issues. b) Lueders said he, Vetterkind and Bennett have been appointed to the state committee examining possible change to the Wis. Circuit Court Access website. d) Lueders noted that the WNA has requested representation on the Public Records Board. He said the board has proposed a rule allowing DOC to destroy training videos after one day; the current definition of “transitory records” will remain in place until 2020. Public Records Board staffer Ferguson said he suggested changes and clarifications to the DOC request. Pitsch mentioned that SPJ has offered local chapters the chance to screen the movie “Spotlight” to the public for free. The council described ways to raise money around the screening, to be held at the the Barrymore.
5) Legislative report. Lueders reported that the legislative study committee on reducing recidivism will likely call for removing some records from WCCA. Bennett reported that Rep. Kramer has asked to study the requirement that public and legal notices be published in newspapers. She noted that WNA has posted online all legal notices for free since 2005. 6) Legal update. Lueders referred to articles in the packet including a “mostly good” ruling in the New Richmond DPPA case. Dreps said the Court of Appeals found accident reports should always be public but reports should be evaluated to see if the information was generated by the Division of Motor Vehicles. He indicated another test case may be needed to clarify the law. Other cases discussed included: the Supreme Court’s ruling that DAs are not “public employees” who can challenge release of disciplinary records; the Dane County court ruling in favor of The Progressive and the Center for Media and Democracy that there is no “deliberative process” exemption in the public records law. Barker also noted the judge rejected assertions that emails talking about bill drafts could be withheld. Other pending cases: AG Schimel’s attempt to shield training videos from release, which Westerberg said is a “balancing test” case; and Milwaukee Sheriff Clarke’s appeal of the ordered release of immigration records. The council discussed whether to submit an amicus brief in the Clarke case and suggested the executive board should make that decision before the next meeting. Barker also mentioned a Lakeland Times case involving the departure of two Oneida County sheriff’s deputies amid sexual assault allegations. The Vilas County judge ruled that releasing information would damage the reputation of one of the deputies. He ordered some records disclosed with some redactions.
- Issue for discussion. The council discussed signs that top state leaders continue to actively resist efforts to keep government open. Examples include the secret caucuses that allowed lawmakers to plot voting strategies that could disenfranchise voters; the UW’s deletion of budget cut presentation videos; the UW System’s decision to withhold its proposed budget until the last minute; and the DOC’s continued obstruction of records requests.
- Issue for discussion. New threats to online court records. Lueders said he believes the Legislature is poised to limit information on WCCA. He noted that Sen. Alberta Darling’s study committee could look into making it harder to see criminal records. Lueders said it’s unclear how many people have been denied unemployment or housing because of WCCA. Bier said there are “compelling stories” on both sides. He suggested the council seek similarly compelling stories about the need to keep court records open. Seymer said such records are helpful to landlords. Dreps said proposals to remove data from WCCA amount to “erasing history” and
“whitewashing what happened.”
- Issue for discussion. Scott Walker’s executive order on open records. The council discussed the progress being made by state agencies toward adopting the governor’s new standards. Some agencies continue to be slow to respond to records requests.
- Other issues. The council discussed efforts by Seymer and talk show host Mark Belling to discover the source of a $400,000 anonymous contribution to a school renovation project. Dreps indicated a judge would likely side with allowing a district to keep the identity confidential if the gift were conditioned on the donor remaining anonymous. Pitsch said he was successful in getting names of donors to the University of Louisville’s (Mitch) McConnell Center. Also mentioned was the assertion by Florence County school district that it is “going broke” answering public records requests from Seymer. Ferguson said he is attempting to mediate the situation.
- Website update. No report.
- Council membership. Lueders said Jonathan Anderson will be invited to fill the vacant SPJ slot and Tom Kamenick from the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty also likely will join the council.
- Your Right to Know column. The council discussed a variety of topics for upcoming YRTK columns.
- Other business. Cunningham mentioned that the Open Government Road Show got high marks in La Crosse. Lueders said the council should revive and/or revise the road show. The next meeting date was set for Weds., Oct. 12 at 2 p.m.