A statement by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council:
As a rule, emails created by public officials that discuss government business and policies are the public’s property and should be available to the public.
But hundreds, and possibly thousands, of emails created in secret by some of former Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker’s office staff are closed to public access. They were unearthed during a John Doe investigation of some of Walker’s aides and a judge has ordered the material from the investigation not be released to the public.
The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council urges the judge who presided over the John Doe investigation to reconsider his secrecy order and release the staff emails because the court proceedings revealed they discuss important county government policies and issues, including patient abuse at a county-run mental health facility and the death of a teenager killed when a concrete slab fell on him in a county parking facility.
The three-year John Doe investigation was recently completed. There’s no longer a reason for information generated by public officials on the public’s dime that discusses the public’s business to remain secret.
Additionally, the Council calls on the Milwaukee County Board and County Executive Chris Abele to reclaim ownership and take custody of these records, since they should have been turned over to Walker’s successor as state law requires when he left office. See State Statute 19.21(2). These records would then be subject to release under the Public Records Law.
This issue was the subject of an editorial this week in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The Council hopes that others in the media will take similar stands.