Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council
July 23, 2015 meeting
Capital Newspapers Auditorium
1) Call to order. The meeting was called to order at 1:33 p.m. Present were Dee Hall, Steve Lovejoy, John Foust, Bob Dreps, Larry Gallup, Tom Kamenick, Orville Seymer, Scott Bauer, Mark Pitsch, Doug Wojcik, Beth Bennett, April Barker, Bill Lueders, Tom Bier, Christa Westerberg, Andy Hall, Mike Buelow, Gina Duwe, Dave Haynes and Dave Zweifel. Guests included Paul Johnson, Julia Hunter, Rusty Cunningham, Nick Novak, Dusty Brown, Lauren Fuhrmann, Anne Schwartz and Delanie Breuer.
2) Approval of minutes. Minutes from the 4/23/15 meeting were approved.
3) Treasurer’s report. Lueders reported a $4,800 bank balance including dues and public donations.
4) President’s report. a) Lueders announced that Paul Ferguson would head up the new Office of Open Government in the Department of Justice in charge of public records and open meetings enforcement. Guest Anne Schwartz, spokeswoman for Attorney General Brad Schimel, introduced AAG Delanie Breuer, who also will work in the office. Lueders reminded members of the all-day Open Government Summit to be hosted by Schimel July 29. b) Lueders noted the Oct. 9-10 National FOIC meeting and asked for volunteers to represent WisFOIC; Barker volunteered. c) The members also decided to have Barker serving as co-vice president with Westerberg who is in Montreal for the year. d) Lueders said he had left the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism to become associate editor at The Progressive.
5) Issue of the moment. Lueders discussed the proposal — quickly defeated due to widespread public outcry — to severely curtail the public-records law. Seymer noted that lawmakers have not completely backed down. Lueders said a Legislative Council study committee could begin next May and recommend changes to the law by next fall. Lueders said he hopes the idea will die. Dreps and Lueders both said they don’t trust the Legislature. Bennett reported that “rank and file” lawmakers were not happy with the proposal put forth by the GOP leaders. Westerberg noted that the exemption would have applied to all levels of government across Wisconsin, not just the Legislature. Lueders suggested more news coverage using public records; Seymer suggested a “Sunshine Year” to emphasize the importance of open government issues. A. Hall thanked Lueders for his efforts to battle the changes over the 4th of July.
6) Other legislative news. Lueders reported on additional proposals that were dropped, including exempting WEDC records and UW research from public access and changing WCCA. He noted that UW did get an exemption from releasing names of job finalists.
7) Legal update. Seymer discussed the Woznicki case that will have a hearing in a few weeks. A petitioner is trying to get records of Woznicki’s work history while superintendent of the New Richmond School District. Woznicki has blocked access so far. The state Supreme Court ruled against the Racine Journal-Times, saying the city’s police and fire commission did not violate the law when it didn’t immediately turn over records from a closed meeting. Members discussed the consolidated legal challenge by The Progressive and the Center for Media and Democracy who were denied records by the state under a “deliberative process” exemption that does not exist in state law. Westerberg discussed the lawsuit by the Freedom From Religion Foundation against the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance seeking records of the state’s lack of enforcement of the Contraceptive Equity Law. A. Hall reported that WCIJ had reached a settlement with the state Department of Corrections including attorneys’ fees over release of records. Lueders discussed the unusual order by the Supreme Court that prosecutors destroy records gathered in the John Doe II investigation. Westerberg noted that the Journal Sentinel has intervened to open up the records. Dreps noted that the Foust decision allows prosecutors to shield their files. Barker suggested a legal challenge if the only copy of the records is to be destroyed.
8) Issue for discussion. AG invites topics for Open Government Summit. WisFOIC and James Friedman of Godfrey & Kahn both sent letters to Schimel outlining several issues that should be discussed, FOIC asked that officials be required to use only official email to conduct public business; establish consistent rules for retention of electronic communications; ban electronic chatter of members during meetings; limit charges to only the “actual necessary and direct” cost of providing records; and require closed government sessions be recorded. Lueders said he was leery of suggesting changes to the law; Bennett said the current state is untenable, “we can’t just continue to litigate our way out of all of this.”
9) Police body cameras. WNA and WBA propose a model policy based on the Media Law Resource Center’s model policy. Lueders noted that DOC has denied public access to body camera video.
10) Other issues. Oshkosh withholds gender and age of a child bitten by a wolf, citing privacy laws; a Wood County judge ruled that two school board members cannot force the editor of the Stevens Point City-Times to disclose unnamed sources. The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty is seeking access to meetings of an Appleton School District committee that is reviewing textbooks for the district.
11) Website. Westerberg and Foust were thanked for posting information about the open-records fight on the WisFOIC website.
12) Membership. No new business.
13) Your Right to Know. The committee discussed various column topics. Lovejoy offered to write about the Racine J-T’s fees case; Barker offered to write about her attendance at the National FOIC meeting.
14) Other business. A. Hall suggested that the council raise money from individuals and foundations to support the work of WisFOIC. Lueders suggested that any money raised be used for legal challenges. The council agreed to meet at 1:30 p.m. Oct. 15. (Later changed to 2 p.m.)
15) Adjournment. The meeting was adjourned.