Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council
Minutes of the Oct. 9, 2014 meeting Capital Newspapers auditorium
1) The meeting was called to order at 1:30 p.m. In attendance: Dee Hall, Bob Dreps, Dustin Brown, Sean Dwyer, Chris Hardie, Michael Buelow, Doug Wojcik, Mark Pitsch, Julia Hunter, Beth Bennett, Gina Duwe, Bob Drechsel, April Barker, Bill Lueders, Dave Haynes, Christa Westerberg, Tom Bier, Dave Zweifel, Orville Seymer and Jeff Mayers.
2) Approval of the July 10, 2014 minutes. Approved with a minor change.
3) Treasurer’s report. Drechsel said WisFOIC has $3,222 in assets and a $250 expense, national Freedom of Information Coalition dues.
4) President’s report. a) Lueders said he received a $500 scholarship to attend the Oct. 23-24 NFOIC meeting in St. Petersburg, Fla.; b) The donate button is now installed on the wisfoic.org website; c) Lueders appeared before a Dane County law forum on the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access program; Westerberg appeared on the Mike Gousha TV program at Marquette Law School to discuss official secrecy; d) A rewrite of the Capitol press credentials is underway; e) Lueders noted that he has now reached his 10th year as president of WisFOIC.
5) New fee structure for council members. Drechsel proposed raising fees, possibly for the first time in 30 years. The new fees for 2015 would be $300 for WNA and WBA; $300 for AP made up of $100 each from the AP, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Wisconsin State Journal; $200 for SPJ and the News Photographers; and a $50 suggested donation for public members. The fees were unanimously approved.
6) Lueders said WisFOIC has been invited to join a national group, OpenTheGovernment.org. There is no cost. Council members asked for time to look into the group more before taking up the issue at next council meeting.
7) Legislative update. The Legislature is not in session. Pitsch wrote a Your Right to Know quizzing the candidates for governor on openness issues.
8) Legal update. Dreps discussed an amicus brief filed in the case in which a Fond du Lac County judge barred public access to jury selection; an appeals court ruled in favor of openness but that decision may be appealed. The DNR has reversed course and agreed to release names of disciplined employees. The Lakeland Times lost an open-records appeals involving a local school district that declined to release information about recruiting a new coach under the “staff management planning” exception. The Wisconsin Professional Police Association lost its case seeking to make the Wisconsin Counties Association subject to state openness laws; Dreps noted that such groups often set policy for their government members. The Racine Journal-Times is asking the state Supreme Court to award it fees in a case in which the newspaper was initially denied access to Police and Fire Commission records. A gun group has filed suit to get Fond du Lac to disclose its policies on gun carrying. Westerberg reported that a motion seeking to open eight documents in the John Doe litigation was denied and the federal case sent back to state courts.
9) Issue: Classified research at UW. Lueders discussed a bill that passed the last Legislature governing UW classified research. A provision that would have exempted all research from the open records law was removed from the bill, but it still could have consequences for what kinds of research takes place.
10) Issue: Naming of officer in Milwaukee fatal officer shooting. Lueders questioned why Milwaukee police had not yet released the name of the officer involved in an April shooting. Haynes said the family has disclosed the name of the officer involved but the MPD has refused to confirm. The department said it traditionally doesn’t release names until a charging decision is made. Lueders said the MPD was being more secretive than the Ferguson, Missouri, PD. Westerberg suggested a Your Right to Know column on the topic.
10) Other issues: The case against a photographer who accidentally bumped a Capitol police officer during a protest is dropped; Eau Claire citizens sue over closed meetings; Romenesko blogs about a Walworth County commissioner who banned the Janesville Gazette from naming the age, gender or hometown of a fatal shooting suspect and his victim, even though the sheriff’s office already had identified the 11-year-old victim; Dreps said the issue came up too fast for legal action, describing the court order as “overkill.” Drechsel wrote an op-ed column questioning whether John Doe gag orders violate free-speech rights.
11) Website: Duwe reported that PayPal has been added to the WisFOIC website. Lueders discussed updating the website with recent AG opinions. He discussed a request that the AG issue an opinion on whether lawmakers must be notified whenever the Senate Chief Clerk releases information about them. Dreps said office holders do get notice but do not have the right to challenge the release in court.
12) Council membership: The membership was updated on the website. The group discussed adding conservative political activist Orville Seymer to the council after he requested membership. After a brief discussion, the council agreed it would be good to broaden the membership and Seymer, of Citizens for Responsible Government, was unanimously accepted.
13) Your Right to Know column. Topics include the failure by Milwaukee police to release the name of an officer involved in a fatal shooting back in April. Barker suggested doing a column on UW’s secret research.
14) Other business: The council discussed recent occasions in which reporters’ access to campaign events has been restricted or denied; Dreps said campaigns are private organizations and can control space they rent. Pitsch suggested a YRTK column on the topic. The group discussed the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s attempts to get records from the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance. Hardie suggested WisFOIC reach out to the newly elected AG to urge him/her to maintain existing practices regarding open records and open meetings. Lueders suggested the group present the new AG with its legislative “wish list” and problem areas. The next meeting was set for 1:30 p.m. on Thurs., Jan. 15.
15) Adjournment: The meeting was adjourned at 3:02 p.m.