Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council
Oct. 30, 2018 minutes
Assembly Parlor, State Capitol
1) Call to order and introductions: The meeting came to order at 1:30 p.m. In attendance were Bill Lueders, Dee Hall, Christa Westerberg, Steve Lovejoy, Sam Martino, Larry Gallup, Matthew DeFour, John Foust, Orville Seymer, Tom Kamenick, Kyle Geissler, Tom Bier, Dave Zweifel, Bob Drechsel, Ernie Franzen, Sarah K. Larson, Paul Ferguson, Steven Potter, Joanna Beilman-Dulin, Anthony LoCoco, Jason Joyce, Andy Hall, Ivan Moreno, Beth Bennett, April Barker and Rusty Cunningham (by phone).
2) Approval of minutes from July 19, 2018 meeting.
3) Treasurer’s report. Drechsel reported assets of $6,318.34. He noted $593 in individual donations and a $500 contribution from Citizens for Responsible Government.
4) President’s report. a) Lueders noted international delegations who met with FOIC representatives in Madison and Milwaukee. b) Lueders discussed WisFOIC’s rejection of a request by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, One Wisconsin Now and the Center for Media and Democracy to withdraw its award to Gov. Scott Walker for his executive order to hasten state agency responses to public records requests. Lueders acknowledged the governor had not been entirely transparent but said “the award was for a specific thing … not lifetime achievement.” [Note: the critical word “not” was mistakenly omitted from this sentence in the initial draft and corrected at the council’s 1/24/19 meeting.] c) Lueders reported the council has joined a multi-group response to the Racine records case, which involves secret court records and proceeding allocating up to $1,000. d) FOIC survey: Geissler discussed the survey sent to legislative candidates. We surveyed 204 candidates: 106 Democrats, 84 Republicans and 14 third-party contenders. The council received 75 responses from 60 Democrats, eight Republicans and seven third-party candidates, for a disappointing 37 percent response rate.
(out of order) 12) Council membership. Lueders announced that Sam Martino would take the place of Mark Pitsch in representing the Society of Professional Journalists. UW-Madison journalism graduate student Steven Potter requested to serve on the board. That request was approved. The council also discussed Paul Johnson’s request that private investigators be added to the list of represented groups on the council.
5) Report on Sept. 21-22, 2018 National Freedom of Information Coalition summit in Cincinnati. Tom Kamenick reported on his attendance at the summit. He noted that his firm, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, paid all unreimbursed expenses, meaning the cost to FOIC was free. Kamenick said the 2019 meeting in Dallas will celebrate the group’s 30th anniversary. Some takeaways from the 2018 summit: Ohio has a public records mediation process that allows many requesters and governments to avoid litigation. Requesters are increasingly questioning the amount charged to provide copied records — NFOIC has tallied the total cost at just 1.2 cents per page. The Reason Foundation is pushing for a uniform format to make it easier to analyze government data across jurisdictions. 28 states provide some type of administrative appeal process or separate courts that handle public records disputes. Lueders suggested FOIC should examine mechanism for resolving public records requests.
6) Legislative update. Geissler reported on the evolving proposal to write a bill governing release of police body camera videos. He called the latest idea a “huge improvement” over AB 351 that passed in the Assembly but not the Senate and follows existing public-records law. Ben Hart from WISN and James Friedman of Godfrey & Kahn are representing openness advocates.
7) Legal update. Lueders reported Flynn v. Kemper Center, which seeks to clarify whether quasi-governmental agencies are subject to state openness laws, and Lueders v. Krug, which challenges a state rep’s refusal to provide records in electronic format, are awaiting decisions. The Center for Media and Democracy sues AG Brad Schimel over records about his Affordable Care Act lawsuit. Westerberg reported on a records dispute with the UW-Oshkosh in which a professor is seeking to force a reporter to return and not write about records that were accidentally sent unredacted. Kamenick and Seymer said they have been waiting about two months for calendars, phone records and email from a MKE council member.
8) Issue for discussion: Racine records case. What the heck? Members talked about the mysterious case in which all court records and sessions are held in secret in a dispute between the Racine city attorney and a Racine City Council member. Council members decried the level of secrecy in the matter. Lovejoy described the situation as “a very strange mess.”
9) Issue for discussion: AG Schimel reduces costs of records to 1 cents/page. Lueders said DOJ is encouraging other agencies to follow suit. Westerberg noted that cost does not include staff time for searches. The AG says requesters are discouraged by even “nominal” records costs.
10) Other issues: DOJ finds Sauk County gave an insufficient meeting notice. The Casco town clerk describes complying with the open meeting law as harassment. UW-Madison’s agreement with Foxconn and managing the $100 million deal will be largely out of public view.
11) Website: Foust reported that the new website format (WordPress) will make it easier to post and archives items on the site.
13) Your Right to Know: Members discussed various ideas for upcoming columns.
14) Other business: DeFour reported that the Madison School Board has been limiting public comment during meetings. State law does not usually require public bodies to allow comment. If comments are allowed, the body cannot discriminate based on viewpoint. Foust said Fort Atkinson only allows residents and business owners in the city to comment. Foust also reported that municipalities are facing loss of cable fees that support public, educational and government access channels. Bier said cable and satellite companies have been fighting the fees for years. Foust said such a change could end recording of government meetings in some communities. Joyce noted that such recordings are “critical” for news coverage. The council set the next FOIC meeting for 2 p.m. Thurs., Jan. 24, 2019 at Capital Newspapers.
15) Adjournment. The meeting was adjourned at 2:45 to celebrate the council’s 40th anniversary.