Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council
Jan. 14, 2016 meeting
Capital Newspapers Auditorium
- Call to order and introductions. The meeting was called to order at 1:35 p.m. In attendance were Dee Hall, Bill Lueders, April Barker, Christa Westerberg, Bob Dreps, John Foust, Bob Drechsel, Steve Lovejoy, Mike Buelow, Larry Gallup, Tom Bier, Ernie Franzen, Beth Bennett,
Mark Pitsch, Andy Hall, Dave Haynes, Doug Glass. Guests included Chris Ahmuty, Dustin Brown, James Debilzen, Paul Johnson, Brad Schimel, Anne Schwartz, Paul Ferguson, Julia Hunter, Mary Bottari, Matthew Smith.
- Approval of minutes from the Oct. 22, 2015 meeting. Minutes approved.
- Treasurer’s report. Drechsel reported $4,986.91 in the bank. He plans to ask the public members for annual voluntary contributions. He thanked Foust for continuing to pay to keep WisFOIC’s domain name, and noted two annual $350 contributions from Frances Ingebritsen.
- President’s report. a) Lueders discussed the complaint filed with the Public Records Board over its definition of “transitory records.” The board reversed itself. b) Pitsch previewed the Open Government Traveling Show set to appear in eight sites including representatives of diverse groups. The show is to coincide with Sunshine Week, March 15-17. AG Schimel, in attendance, offered to help publicize the effort. A. Hall offered money for sponsorship. c) Watchdog Awards. The event is April 20. A. Hall said there may be training in conjunction with the event. d) Council elections will be held in April. Dave Zweifel will handle nominations.
- Discussion of transitory records. Lueders discussed the outcome of the Jan. 11 Public Records Board meeting in which changes to the definition of transitory record were rescinded. Lueders reported great public interest in the issue, noting 1,900 emails came in, all favoring rescinding. He mentioned that the problem was not so much the definition but the interpretation of the changes by the Walker administration. Public Records Board member Ferguson (head of the AG’s Office of Open Government) discussed the process leading up to the definition change. Barker suggested that the FOIC issue a position paper on the issue of transitory records detailing what other states do. Ferguson said he would welcome any input on how to handle such records. He noted there is an open spot on the Public Records Board and invited the council to nominate someone. Schimel and Dreps discussed the pros and cons of having courts or the Legislature make needed changes to the Public Records Law.
- Legislative news. Lueders mentioned that Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has vowed to make no changes in the process that allows for last-minute changes to the budget, such as the aborted sneak attack on the Public Records Law. Lueders said Democratic efforts to make the Legislature fully subject to the Open Meetings and Public Records laws are “going nowhere.”
- Legal update. Dreps noted that the Wisconsin Supreme Court deadlocked on the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act and issued no opinion. He said he is discussing with parties how to proceed. Barker reported that the Center for Media and Democracy/Progressive case against the state for withholding records was still pending. Dreps noted that the Supreme Court has not determined whether it is bound by the Public Records Law because of separation of powers issues. In a Sheboygan case, a judge halted a project over Open Meetings Law violations.
- Issue for discussion: Should the Council put someone on a Legislative Council committee to make changes to the Public Records Law? The council discussed whether to participate in the process, which could result in unwanted proposals that would make the law less effective. Dreps said opening the issue to debate could result in degradations to the law, not improvements. Members agreed the council should not boycott the process. Lueders said his fear is that the Legislature will make another run at eviscerating the state Public Records Law.
- Opees: The council discussed various nominees for the annual Opee Awards recognizing citizens, media, advocates, politicians and whistleblowers who advocate open government. Drechsel, Lueders, D. Hall and Westerberg were appointed to consider the nominees.
- Other issues: Wisconsin receives a ‘D’ from the Public Integrity Project. The AG’s office reports it has speeded up response to records requests.
- Matthew Smith, adviser of the Fond du Lac High School newspaper and broadcast news, discussed an effort to push the “New Voices of Wisconsin” bill that would clarify that students can determine what is broadcast or printed in student media and should not be controlled by school administrators.
- Foust said Gina Duwe has left the council and the Janesville Gazette and he will now run the FOIC website. Foust suggested cleaning up the site and making it easier to navigate. Lueders said the council will make a wish list for the website. A. Hall said the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism could help if FOIC goes to a WordPress site.
- Council membership. Duwe departs; Doug Glass from the Associated Press joins.
- Your Right to Know column. Members discussed column ideas for the next three months covering the issue of transitory records, the Opee Awards and the New Voices of Wisconsin Act.
- Other business. Lovejoy discussed the difficulties in getting school records to verify/refute a situation involving alleged sexual acts among kindergarten students. Barker offered to join A. Hall and Dave Haynes on a finance committee to raise money for FOIC. Pitsch mentioned the
March 14 Reporting on Religion conference. The next meeting was set for 1:30 p.m. Thursday, April 7. (Meeting time later changed to 2 p.m.)
- The meeting was adjourned at 3:50 p.m.