Every year brings forth new heroes and villains with regard to Wisconsin’s somewhat tattered tradition of open government. This year, it seems, we have had more heroes.
In fact, in two categories for its annual Openness in Government Awards, or Opees, the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council was unable to settle on only a single winner.
The awards, part of the council’s observance of national Sunshine Week (sunshineweek.org), March 11-17, will be presented at the annual Wisconsin Watchdog Awards dinner in Madison on Tuesday, April 21.
This year’s winners are:
Political Openness Award (“Popee”): Shirley Abrahamson
This Supreme Court justice, who retired in July after 43 years on the court, faithfully applied the presumption of openness in our state’s open records and meetings laws. She wrote the majority opinion in a 2012 case to bar officials from charging for blacking out records, among other decisions, and opposed the court’s decision to shield some of its own business from public view. Abrahamason once joked that Wisconsin might rightfully be known as “the Sunshine State.” It certainly shone brighter because of her.
Citizen Openness Award (“Copee”): Tie: Kevin Wymore and Tom Kamenick.
Wymore, a former state employee, has fought for years to obtain records from a University of Wisconsin advisory committee charged with distributing millions of dollars to health-related projects. Last year, a Dane County judge ruled that the committee violated state open records and open meetings laws in denying his requests. Meanwhile Kamenick last year launched the state’s first law firm solely devoted to open government litigation. He has already filed several lawsuits and helped dozens of people in their pursuit of records and access.
Media Openness Award (“Mopee”): Amanda St. Hilaire
This reporter for FOX6 in Milwaukee aired in-depth reports on how state legislators reserve the right to destroy records and how the clerks in both houses refuse to release records regarding misconduct allegations against lawmakers and their staffs. Her station is now suing Gov. Tony Evers for refusing to release records without the requester providing search terms.
Open Records Scoop of the Year (“Scoopee”): Tie: Wisconsin State Journal and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
State Journal reporter Kelly Meyerhofer used public records to tell the tale of a UW-Madison researcher whose lab was considered so “toxic” it may have contributed to a grad student’s suicide, leading to protests and changes in policy. And Journal Sentinel reporters John Diedrich and Kevin Crowe analyzed medical records to expose the sometimes deadly practice of ambulance diversion, spurring new efforts to ban the practice.
Whistleblower of the Year (“Whoopee”): Kriss Marion
This Lafayette County supervisor pushed back against a proposed resolution threatening to “prosecute” reporters who failed to print verbatim what they were told about a water quality report, drawing national attention and resulting in the resolution being tabled.
No Friend of Openness (“Nopee”): The Wisconsin Legislature
The state’s legislative branch won this year, not for the first time, because of its refusal to consider state Sen. Chris Larson’s bill to prevent them from selectively deleting records, its misbegotten and ultimately failed effort to shield the names of lottery winners, and its practice of withholding investigative records regarding allegations of official misconduct.
Your Right to Know is a monthly column distributed by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council (wisfoic.org), a group dedicated to open government. Bill Lueders is the group’s president.