Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council
Minutes of the Oct. 12, 2016 meeting
Capital Newspapers auditorium
- Call to order and introductions. The meeting was called to order at 2:05 p.m. In attendance were Bill Lueders, Dee Hall, Steve Lovejoy, Orville Seymer, Larry Gallup, Mark Pitsch, Jonathan Anderson, Kyle Geissler, Tom Bier, Andy Hall, Bob Drechsel, Bob Dreps, Ernie Franzen, Julia Hunter, Chris Ahmuty, Mary Bottari, Paul Ferguson, Paul Johnson, Neil W. Johnson, Tom Kamenick, Dustin Block, Dave Zweifel, Christa Westerberg and April Barker (by phone).
- Approval of minutes from 7/21/16 meeting. Minutes approved with a modification to further explain a Vilas County judge’s ruling releasing records about a sheriff’s deputy. 3) Treasurer’s report. Drechsel reported a balance of $5,195. The largest expense was $1,716.66 for the amicus brief filed in the Voces de la Frontera case against Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke.
- President’s report. a) Lueders reported that the council had joined the Wisconsin
Newspaper Association and the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association in filing the Clarke brief. b) WCCA Oversight Committee holds first of six planned meetings on Sept. 27; Lueders, Vetterkind and Bennett were there. Lueders said many members want to make changes in what court records are available online. c) Lueders announced Watchdog Awards will be March 30.
Sunshine Week is March 12-18.
- National FOIC report. Westerberg reported on numerous reports from the National FOIC meeting in Washington, D.C., in October. Panels discussed problems with “abusive requesters” who were turning public sentiment against disclosure laws; the fact that the U.S. ranks 51st in the world for the quality of its disclosure laws; and a Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press survey that recommended releasing data to all journalists and the public when answering requests. Westerberg suggested we examine Open Book Wisconsin to see whether this transparency initiative is actually working. She also suggested we raise awareness of WisFOIC. 6) Legislative news: Lueders discussed two Legislative Council study committees, one examining recidivism and another on publication of government documents and legal notices. Lueders also reported Illinois had passed protections for student journalists, similar to a bill being contemplated in Wisconsin.
7) Legal update: Westerberg reported on the Wis. Supreme Court oral argument in the Democratic Party lawsuit against AG Brad Schimel. Schimel’s side argued there was “sensitive” law enforcement information in the training videos sought by the Dems. Their attorney appeared open to obtaining redacted videos. Westerberg discussed the Teague vs. DOJ lawsuit, which she said could broaden the categories of people receiving Woznicki notices allowing them to challenge release of records. Westerberg said the WisFOIC amicus brief included arguments on Wisconsin’s history of openness in providing law enforcement records. Other news: The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty case was accepted by the Wis. Supreme Court, and the council agreed to file an amicus brief on behalf of WILL, which argues that the Appleton School District’s curriculum review committee should be open to the public. Lueders also reported that he had sued state Rep. Scott Krug over his refusal to provide records in electronic format. Paul Johnson mentioned that he had been charged 25 cents a page for electronic records that a custodian insisted on printing out, then redacting. Dreps said the law is not clear on the issue, although “electronic copies should cost a lot less than printed copies.” Anderson said he has asked for three sets of records involving a former Marshfield School District official and has been denied by officials citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act ( FERPA). 8) Discussion items: a) John Doe case secrecy and records destruction. Members and guests discussed the status of the John Doe records and whether they are likely to be destroyed. Dreps said it’s difficult to figure out what is going on given the fact that many legal arguments remain sealed. The council agreed to file an open-records request seeking the John Doe records with Barker and Dreps abstaining and Westerberg not voting. b) Refusal to release Milwaukee shooting video until the DA decides not to prosecute. Franzen noted that
Chicago also has been criticized for delaying such police shooting videos. Westerberg said North Carolina had passed a law “chilling” on the public’s right to see police videos. Dreps criticized the delayed release. [The videos are still being withheld, pending their use in a criminal prosecution of the officer, filed in mid-December.] Ahmuty said DA John Chisholm was “sitting” on videos of two officer-involved shootings. Lovejoy said there should be a statewide standard on how to handle such videos. Ferguson mentioned that DOJ gets a lot of requests for advice on how to handle police videos and how long to keep them. He said they’re being advised to handle them like any other record. He mentioned that DOJ has software to “blur” parts of a video that might violate privacy. He said many police are not sure how to handle these videos and they’re seeking guidance. Ahmuty noted a bill that would have dictated how such videos would be handled. Johnson said he’s been told that officers can erase videos if they do not file a report on an incident. c) DOC scrapped then revived plan to destroy motivational interviewing training videos. Lueders said the council opposes any records destructions. Westerberg noted that the policy comes at the same time the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote about bad Department of Corrections training videos. d) City of Milton ethics code. The council discussed a Milton ordinance that bars council members from discussing issues from closed session. Now a council member is facing sanction for discussion a session that involved her. 9) Other issues: The council discussed the following issues: Sealed court records related to an attorney to committed suicide when facing child molestation charges; Westerberg discussed her case against the DNR board which used a “walking quorum” to OK use of snowmobiles at Blue Mound State Park.
- Web site: No report.
- Council membership. Jonathan Anderson from the USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin and Tom Kamenick from the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty were approved for membership in WisFOIC.
- Your Right to Know. Members discussed a variety of ideas for upcoming YRTK columns. 13) New business. The council discussed the fact that the Sheboygan Police Department is using encrypted channels to keep the public from listening in. Lueders has spoken out on the issue. The council set the next meeting for Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. 14) Meeting was adjourned.