Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council
April 11, 2018 minutes
Capital Newspapers auditorium
1) Call to order and introductions. The meeting was called to order at 2 p.m. In attendance were Dee Hall, Tom Kamenick, Paul Johnson, Larry Gallup, Jonathan Anderson, Orville Seymer, Tom Bier, Kyle Geissler, Doug Wojcik, Dave Zweifel, Bob Dreps, Ernie Franzen, Mary Franzen, Andy Hall, Rusty Cunningham, Bob Drechsel, Christa Westerberg, Bill Lueders, April Barker (by speakerphone). Guests were Paul Ferguson (Attorney General’s office), Paul Anderson (private investigator) and Ivan Moreno (Associated Press – by speakerphone).
2) Approval of minutes. Minutes of the Jan. 25, 2018 meeting were approved.
3) Treasurer’s report. Drechsel presented the report, which showed total assets of $5,569. Income included $1,000 in dues from AP, SPJ, WBA and WNA.
4) President’s report. Lueders presented the following report:
- Opee awards were announced in early March
- The annual Watchdog Awards will be held April 19
- 2018 is the council’s 40th anniversary (founded on Oct. 31, 1978)
- The National Freedom of Information Council has moved from Missouri to the University of Florida in Gainesville
5) Legislative news. Lueders said several items in the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access Oversight Committee report have been implemented, including removing from display after two years dismissed or acquitted felony and misdemeanor cases, small claims cases and dismissed or denied injunctions. Those recommendations may have resulted in thousands or tens of thousands of cases being removed from WCCA already. Lueders also noted that AB 351, which would have restricted access to police body cam videos, died in the Senate. Geissler said lawmakers may form a legislative study committee on what to do with body cam video. Geissler, Lueders, Seymer and Franzen volunteered to serve on the committee if WisFOIC is asked to provide members. Lueders also reported that AB 448, which would have required the Joint Finance Committee to post motions at least 48 hours in advance, failed; SB 612, which would have required WCCA to post information on judges, charges and outcomes in a searchable format, failed; and AB 548, which would have required that files of wrongful convictions be sealed, failed.
6) Legal update. Lueders reported that the state Supreme Court had ruled against Madison Teachers Inc. in its effort to use the open records law to investigate votes cast in its recertification election. Lueders noted Judge Ann Walsh Bradley’s comments that the decision was the third time the court went out of its way to chip away at the law. Westerberg said it was part of a “worrisome” trend of the court making decisions based on the identity of the records requester. Lueders noted Justice Rebecca Bradley had cited “partisan purposes” of the Democratic Party when it denied access to training tapes from AG Brad Schimel. Other cases discussed: Hagen v. Board of Regents, in which UW-Oshkosh student newspaper is seeking records of an investigation into a professor; Flynn v. Kemper Center, about a quasi-governmental agency; Bo Ryan’s former mistress lost her case alleging UW officials violated the law by ID-ing her; the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty sues state Rep. Brostoff over access to electronic records; a similar case involving Rep. Krug is being appealed. Jonathan Anderson questioned why DOJ was siding with Assembly members when their positions are “untenable” (Ferguson, from the AG’s office, deferred questions to the AG’s spokesman); AG Schimel issues a formal opinion that only current office holders need to be notified when records about them are to be released; the Iola School Board asks for permission to charge more for public records; the Supreme Court “punts” on whether to release John Doe records.
7) Council elections. Zweifel held the elections for FOIC. Re-elected to two-year terms were Lueders as president; Barker and Westerberg as co-vice presidents; Drechsel as treasurer and Dee Hall as treasurer.
8) Issue for discussion: Denial of access to records regarding public health. Westerberg led the discussion focused on decisions by various health and safety agencies to withhold important public information, including blood-lead levels in children in Milwaukee; the Milwaukee public schools’ failure to respond to questions about whether it has tested for lead in drinking water; DNR withholding information from La Crosse County officials about high nitrate levels in local water wells near a hog operation; and other incidents as detailed in her April 2018 Your Right to Know column.
10) (out of order) Issue for discussion: Are school districts rewriting policies to avoid complying with Supreme Court’s 2017 ruling in Appleton case? Kamenick said WILL has found school districts changing methods for picking textbooks in a way that does not open them to public scrutiny. He said the group will continue monitoring and investigating that.
9) (out of order) Issue for discussion: Mary Franzen reported that WTMJ had been barred from showing faces of witnesses in cases. The reasons given include witness intimidation but she said the ban has included showing police officers’ faces. Both Dreps and Kamenick said Wisconsin judges have broad latitude to bar cameras in the courtroom. M. Franzen said the station appealed to the chief judge, who upheld the decision. Moreno said he also was barred from obtaining video of a large Milwaukee school safety officer who “body-slammed” a 90-pound student under student privacy and pupil records restrictions. Lueders said the public should be able to see that and suggested that Moreno ask the student’s parents to get a copy. Dreps suggested the video could be edited to protect the student’s identity. Kamenick said court rulings are mixed on whether videos constitute student records.
11) Other issues: Sauk County continues its bad record on openness; Green Bay shields the names of disciplined employees. Anderson summarized his research (along with UW-Milwaukee professor David Pritchard) finding that UW has been sued 34 times over 40 years in public records cases and has lost each one. Dreps said UW got what it wanted in most of those cases — which was delay.
12) Website. Lueders said WisFOIC is on the “verge of making progress” on updating its website. J. Anderson is converting the website to a new format, noting the existing format is “way past its prime.”
13) Council membership. No report.
14) Your Right to Know columns. J. Anderson will write the May column on his study; Westerberg volunteered to write a column in July on the tendency of the courts to explore the motivation of records requesters; another column was suggested updating the status of cameras in the courtroom.
15) Other business including next meeting date. The next meeting was set for Thursday, July 19 at 2 p.m.
16) Adjournment. The meeting was adjourned at 3:30 p.m.