Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council
Minutes of Jan. 23, 2014 meeting
Capital Newspapers auditorium
1) Call to order and introductions. The meeting was called to order at 2:05 p.m. In attendance were Dee Hall, Steve Lovejoy, Mark Stodder, Dave Haynes, Michael Buelow, Tom Bier, Doug Wojcik, Mary Callen, Beth Bennett, Gordon Govier, Mark Pitsch, Bob Drechsel, Christa Westerberg, Bill Lueders, Andy Hall, Michelle Johnson (by speakerphone), Bob Dreps (briefly by speakerphone), guest Orville Seymer, guest Brendan Fischer.
2) Approval of minutes. Minutes from the 10/3/13 meeting were approved.
3) Treasurer’s report. Drechsel reporting that money was running low and that dues statements would be going out soon. Lueders announced a $365 donation from a person Lueders helped with an open-records request.
4) President’s report. Lueders reported that: a) The council joined other outlets in intervening in the Kelly Rindfleisch case involving John Doe records. Dreps handled the effort on behalf of several groups including WisFOIC, which paid $2,000. b) He testified against a bill sponsored by Sen. Glenn Grothman that would’ve allowed campaign donors giving $500 or less to omit the names of their employers, the practical effect of which would be to allow all Assembly and Senate donors to omit employer information. c) The AG is still weighing the Council request from early 2012 to reconsider allowing clerks of court to charge per-copy fees to people who take photos court records. d) March 16-22 will be Sunshine Week.
5) Legislative update. Lueders reviewed a series of bills including one to make the Legislature subject to open-meetings law rules (assigned to committee, no action); expanding expunction to victims of human trafficking (no action at time but has since passed both houses); pulling data in closed civil cases from WCCA after eight years (no action); various other bills to restrict online court record access.
6) Legal update. Westerberg reported on the media effort to open the John Doe records in the Rindfleisch case and a separate effort by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to obtain other John Doe records. Westerberg also mentioned the MacIver suit against Sen. Jon Erpenbach (for unredacted constituent correspondence) is headed to the appeals court. Guest Brendan Fischer, attorney for the Center for Media and Democracy, updated the council on CMD’s lawsuit against Sen. Leah Vukmir seeking records related to the American Legislative Exchange Council meeting in Oklahoma City. Vukmir was arguing that as a lawmaker meeting in session, she was immune from such civil suits. Fischer said since the Legislature is permanently “in session” that would mean all lawmakers are exempt from complying with the open-records and other laws while in office. Fischer indicated that settlement talks were ongoing. He added that it appears lawmakers are routinely deleting ALEC and other records. Fischer added that if the case settles, the legislative privilege issue may remain unresolved. Fischer also discussed the importance of a development in John Doe II in which the judge in the secret investigation appeared to be saying coordination between campaigns and so-called independent groups such as Wisconsin Club for Growth was OK. Several other cases were discussed including the Wisconsin Professional Police Association appeal of its lawsuit against the Wisconsin Counties’ Association; a UW-Milwaukee student’s suit over records; and settlement talks in a lawsuit filed by the Appleton Post-Crescent against the city of Appleton.
7) Issue: Redactions of information from contacts to legislators and Your Right to Know column. Westerberg said the DOJ’s position is the information should be released subject to “individual” situations. Drechsel said that would seem like a hard rationale to apply across the board. Lueders suggested that the MacIver suit vs. Erpenbach may clarify things. Bennett mentioned that WNA is discussing whether a definition can be devised for an “overly burdensome” open-records request.
8) Issue: Driver’s Privacy Protection Act woes continue. Lueders said Dreps is in court this afternoon on the New Richmond case challenging the secrecy surrounding drivers’ IDs. Callen reported that 78 Wis. communities are now redacting driver’s personal information from records. Bennett said a couple of police departments have refused to redact such information. The AG’s office has refused to reaffirm its 2008 opinion saying the DPPA doesn’t require redaction of drivers’ information. Bennett said WNA is working on the national level with Rep. Sean Duffy to amend the DPPA to clarify its intent. Westerberg reported that the Palatine case that created all of the problems appears to be heading in the right direction. Seymer (Citizens for Responsible Government) said he’s asked for a spreadsheet of all arrests in Hales Corners for a year.
9) Issue: What can be done when custodians claim they have no records, as in the recent case of Rep. Joel Kleefisch? Westerberg said it may come down to a lawsuit in which the other side would be entitled to discovery. There was discussion about CMD’s efforts to get lawmakers’ private emails of ALEC-related business. Westerberg mentioned a Lake Geneva case in which a council member deleted records before there was a request. In those cases there’s no remedy for obtaining them. There was discussion about asking candidates in the upcoming elections what their policy is on retaining records. Pitsch recommended an “openness pledge.” Westerberg suggested a Your Right to Know column on records retention.
10) Lengthy discussion on various nominees for the annual Opee awards.
11) Biennial council elections. Lueders said the election will be in April. The nomination process is open, and Dave Zweifel will be accepting nominations.
12) Other issues. The council discussed the abuse of “private” email exemption to the open-records law; the fact that Lt. Gov. Kleefisch released a video of her closed meetings with businesses on tax policy after they occurred; a couple prevailed in its lawsuit against the town of Kendall; and OpenBook Wisconsin finally debuts.
13) Website. No report.
14) Your Right to Know columns for March, April and May, March will be the column on Opee Award winners by Lueders; in April, Westerberg will write about records retention and February, Buelow will write on OpenBook.
15) Council members. Jason Maddux is leaving the council to take another job. Council has enough members with 24.
16) Other business. Buelow mentioned that Union Labor News was denied press credentials to cover the Governor’s State of the State Address. Next meeting date set for Thur., April 17, 2014, at 2 p.m.
17) Adjournment. The meeting was adjourned at 3:50 p.m.