Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council
Minutes of the April 28, 2011 meeting
Capital Newspapers auditorium
1) Call to order. Meeting was called to order at 2:05 p.m. Present were Dee Hall, Bill
Lueders, Christa Westerberg, Bob Dreps, Chris Hardie, Anita Weier, Bob Dreschel, Mark
Pitsch, Beth Bennett, George Stanley, Michelle Vetterkind, Roger Schneider, Dave Zweifel,
2) Minutes. Minutes from meeting of 1-20-11 approved.
3) Treasurers’ report. Dreschel reported that all of the dues-paying groups had paid,
leaving $4,006.10 in the accounts.
4) President’s report.
A) Lueders reported that the first annual Wisconsin Watchdog dinner held at the
Madison Club was a “tremendous” success. Dave Zweifel was honored with the lifetime
watchdog achievement award. The entire program was taped and is available on the Madison
B) Lueders clarified that the lawsuit filed for the emails sent to Gov. Scott Walker were
on behalf of Isthmus and the Associated Press, not the Wisconsin Freedom of Information
C) Lueders announced that Dee Hall would attend the National Freedom of
Information Coalition meeting in Providence, R.I. on behalf of the Wisconsin FOIC.
D) The video project by Erica Salkin has been set aside temporarily. Salkin reports that
she’s working on three videos, one on general government, one on public records and another
on open meetings.
(Not on agenda.) Lueders reported that the Legislative Council studying Wisconsin’s
electronic circuit court records program was now chaired by Rep. Edward Brooks,
R-Reedsburg. He said the majority of the committee favors drastically reducing public access
to the records and destruction of records involving dismissals and acquittals. He also stated
that the committee supported allowing a person to have expunction of any case, no matter the
severity. He said he and council member Colin Benedict were on the losing end of a 9-2 vote
about reducing public availability of the records. However, he said Brooks abstained from the
vote and it appears the proposal is unlikely to move forward. Lueders also stated that the
attorney general’s office opposes proposals to severely restrict the records.
5) FOIC role in budget-repair bill debate. Council members had a lengthy discussion on
the role Wisconsin FOIC played or should play in the controversy surrounding the court fight
over the collective bargaining vote, which was being challenged in court as violating the state’s
open-meetings law. The executive committee was asked whether the council should file an
amicus brief in the case. Four of the six members voted yes. WNA and WBA decided not to
join citing concerns about taking a stand on an issue that its news organizations were
covering. An estimated cost was given of $4,000 for the amicus, but Lueders stated it could
easily cost more. There was some discussion of a fundraising campaign to raise the money.
Dreps stated that the issues under consideration appear to be “moving targets.” Dreps said the
issue likely will come down to a separation of powers issue – whether the court can make the
Legislature follow its own rules or state law. He called it “probably the most important
government issue in years.” If the Legislature is allowed to hold meetings without public
notice, lawmakers will be able to do whatever they want regarding meetings. Stanley
mentioned that the state Constitution requires that the Capitol be open whenever there’s a
meeting of the Legislature – a provision that appeared to be violated when the Capitol doors
were closed as the conference committee met. Dreps said the council should seek a way to
“add value” to the debate. He said not getting involved could send a bad message. At the
moment, the case was at an impasse with questions over legislative immunity and who
actually was party to the lawsuit. Lueders suggested that the council agree to submit an
amicus “if it makes sense and is meaningful.” Bennett reported that her WNA members felt
there was no need to add arguments to the already complicated case. A motion was offered
and passed, with Dreps abstaining, that the council would file an amicus brief based on the
underlying constitutional issues as they related to the open-meeting law violation.
Both Bennett and Vetterkind stated that emotions among their members were running high
and calls for government openness during Sunshine Week were being seen as taking sides.
Lueders commented that this is one of the most controversial issues ever confronted by
Wisconsin FOIC. There also was discussion about whether the Capitol was truly open, per
Judge John Albert’s order, or whether public access was being illegally restricted.
7) Other Issues. The council discussed several recent open-meetings and public-records
issues including the plan by the Wisconsin Rapids School District to charge $2,000 for the
cost of reviewing and redacting emails of teachers sought by several parties, saying it was
complying with the state Supreme Court ruling that restricted personal email information that
public agencies must release. Dreps mentioned the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel case in which
the police department was seeking to charge the newspaper for the costs of searching and
redacting records. Dreps said the ruling leaves “lots of ambiguity” about what types of costs
can be passed along to records requesters. Hardie mentioned that the La Crosse Tribune
asked for electronic copies of a record but the agency insisted on providing paper copies, thus
significantly boosting the cost. Stanley said the Milwaukee P.D. was adding costs to keep the
newspaper from seeing certain records. A judge recently ruled against the newspaper, saying
the department was not violating the open records law in charging for reviewing and
redacting records. The Journal Sentinel plans to appeal. Dreps suggested forcing public
agencies to produce itemized costs. He said one solution may be to pay excessive fees under
protest, then fight it in court to get the costs and legal fees back.
6) Legal update. Dreps mentioned the successful lawsuit by the Baraboo News Republic
against Sauk County seeking records of an incident in which a work-release inmate with a
lengthy history of traffic violations was allowed to drive a county vehicle, which he then
crashed. Dreps stated that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel also was suing to get disciplinary
investigations and citizen complaints against police officers. There also was discussion about
the Baraboo newspaper’s efforts to get records from DATCP regarding its investigation of a
local dairy farm’s raw milk sales. Westerberg also discussed an effort to get records of attorney
invoices in Juneau County.
8) Bill to open caucuses. The council discussed Assembly Bill 89, a proposal to make
partisan caucus meetings at the Legislature public meetings. The bill has been introduced
several times and is unlikely to pass, nevertheless, members agreed the council should push
for its passage. The suggestion was made that a council member should write the monthly
Your Right to Know column about the bill.
9) Other issues. The Wisconsin Public Interest Group gave Wisconsin a D+ in its
nationwide analysis of spending transparency, noting that information about state contracts
and economic development subsidies was not available or not user friendly. Members also
discussed a proposal by Gov. Walker that would end the funding stream for the Consolidated
Court Automation Programs. The group also discussed the precedent set by a Milwaukee
County judge who closed his courtroom to minors during a sexual assault trial. Judge Daniel
Konkel cited the state law against exposing minors to sexually explicit descriptions and
10) Web site. Wisconsin FOIC has switched to a new web host, which has made the site
cleaner and better.
11) Membership. It was announced that Mark Pitsch would become one of the council’s two
Society of Professional Journalists representatives. The other will be Gordon Govier. That
would put the council at full membership.
12) Your Right to Know column. Hall offered to write the column boosting AB 89. Dreps
said he will write a column on the Capital Times lawsuit against Gov. Jim Doyle’s delay in
turning over records of a judicial appointment. There was also a suggestion that someone
write a column about excessive fees for public-records requests and that Hall write a column
recapping the National FOIC meeting.
13) Other business. The next meeting was set for July 14, 2011 at 2 p.m.
14) Adjourn. The meeting adjourned at 4:55 p.m.