Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council
Minutes of the July 14, 2011 meeting
Capital Newspapers auditorium
1) Meeting was called to order at 2:03 p.m. Present were Bill Lueders, Christa Westerberg, Dee
Hall, Michelle Vetterkind, Beth Bennett, Bob Drechsel, Bob Dreps, Steve Lovejoy, Andy Hall, Roger
Schneider, Mike Buelow, Gina Duwe, John Foust, Anita Weier, Mary Callen.
2) Approval of minutes.
3) Treasurer’s report. Dreschel reported a balance of $3,837.76. Lueders reported he ordered small
cards with the open records and open meetings laws on them. Vetterkind requested 350 and Bennett
requested 500 and said their groups would reimburse Wis. FOIC for printing costs.
4) President’s report. Lueders reported the following:
a) He had issued three “action alerts,” two related to the open-meetings case involving the collective
bargaining law and one about a bill that would have made statements of economic interest more
difficult to access. Lueders said he plans to implement a protocol for such alerts, such as circulating
them among the members of the executive board for feedback before issuing them. b) Bennett took
the lead in opposing the statements of economic interest bill, encouraging newspapers to editorialize
against the changes. Lueders said the fact that the sponsors backed down could be credited to the strong
negative response of the news media. c) The Racine Journal Times is requesting support from the
National Freedom of Information Coalition for a lawsuit to force the village of Mount Pleasant to release
documents regarding the termination of the village president. Lovejoy reported that the newspaper
had received $500. Westerberg said the Journal Times must pay back the grant if it recoups its costs in
court. d) Lueders announced he had taken a job as the money and politics reporter for the Wisconsin
Center for Investigative Journalism. He passed out his new contact information. Bennett suggested that
Wis. FOIC correspondence be sent to the WNA office at the Capital Newspapers building. e) (not on
agenda) Lueders reported that the April Wisconsin Watchdog Awards held in conjunction with the
Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism went “tremendously well,” and the consensus was to have
the same event in April 2012, possibly to coincide with the 120th anniversary of the Daily Cardinal on
April 25. Lueders suggested that the council discuss possible nominees for its lifetime achievement award
at the October meeting. He suggested looking beyond the media to legislators or advocates with other
nonprofits. Bennett suggested a wider call for nominees outside of the FOIC. f) (not on agenda) Andy
Hall described an upcoming project in which WCIJ would provide information to the Center for Public
Integrity for the State Accountability Project, which seeks to measure openness and accountability of state
government at multiple levels through a 300-question survey. He said Lueders, WCIJ’s Kate Golden or
interns may be contacting them for information.
5) Discussion: Lueders reported that in some cases, state legislators were refusing to identify people
who contact their office. He noted that state Rep. John Nygren deleted names of constituents writing to
him about an insurance bill, and the MacIver Institute had run into a similar roadblock seeking records
from Democratic lawmakers. Westerberg said the National FOIC had advised her that some states have
a specific exemption for constituent contacts. Dreps also raised questions about the legality of the Dane
County Sheriff’s Office’s refusal to release the name of a deputy who was fired. Lueders suggested perhaps
asking for an attorney general opinion clarifying that “you can’t secretly contact a public official.” Bennett
said Lucy Dalglish of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press worries that governments
will begin denying requests for massive amounts of data by calling them overly burdensome. Dreps,
Westerberg and Lovejoy questioned whether the Legislature or AG would see constituent contacts as
potentially private and would make them more difficult to access, not less. Lueders suggested that WNA
and WBA poll their members to find out if others have been having the same trouble getting similar
6) Discussion: Lueders raised the issue of what Wis. FOIC could do to boost a proposed constitutional
amendment that would require the Legislature to follow the open meetings law. It would need to pass
through two legislative sessions and a popular vote. Lueders suggested that reporters ask legislative
candidates how they stand on the issue.
7) Legal update: Dreps updated the council on pending legal actions involving the Milwaukee Journal
Sentinel and the Fond du Lac Reporter suing for information both from local police departments. In the
Fond du Lac case, Dreps said the judge has ruled that neither side can collect fees, which could have a
chilling effect on news organizations’ willingness to sue under the state open records law.
(not on agenda) Lueders mentioned a new website run by the state Department of Administration that
is supposed to be a searchable website for contracts and grants. He asked Buelow to check into how it is
funded and whether it is better than the “Contract Sunshine” site which has little information on it.
8) NFOIC report: Dee Hall reported on the National Freedom of Information Coalition meeting
that she attended in Providence, R.I., which was paid for by the national organization. Hall said it was
inspiring to see the public support for openness around the country. She submitted a written report on
ways Wis. FOIC could become a more vigorous organization. She also polled the members about hosting
the 2012 national meeting. There was unanimous approval.
9) Other items: The council discussed several openness issues, including a ruling that a Sauk Co.
supervisor won’t have to pay legal bills for suing the local sheriff for records; and the Appleton School
District wants $18,300 to provide opt-out forms under the open records law.
10) Website: Duwe said she had posed all action alerts and other statements on the site. Bennett
suggested that the site also start posting WNA’s regular Openness Report. Foust has begun a Twitter feed.
We have 116 Facebook friends.
(not on agenda) Lueders reported that we’re lacking columns for Your Right to Know. He suggested
a column on the recent difficulties in getting constituent contact information. Lovejoy offered to write a
column once the Journal Times lawsuit is completed. Westerberg suggested a column on the redistricting,
state budget and budget amendment process and lack of openness involved. Buelow suggested that the
Wisconsin Democracy Campaign could write it.
11) Council membership. Lueders said there’s nothing new to report. Vetterkind suggested a
replacement for Dick Record, who has retired.
12) Other business – next meeting date. Date was set for Oct. 20 at 2 p.m.
13) Adjournment. Meeting adjourned at 4 p.m.