March: Opees honor efforts to promote transparency

2024 Columns Uncategorized

For the 18th straight year, the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council is recognizing outstanding efforts to protect the state’s tradition of open government through its Openness in Government awards, or Opees.

The awards are being presented as part of national Sunshine Week, March 10 to 16. Winners have been invited to claim their award at the Wisconsin Openness Awards Dinner in Madison on March 14, part of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association’s annual convention.

Awards are being given this year in six categories. The winners are:

Public Openness Award (“Popee”): Curt Green

When a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigative team set out to gather information on state gun deaths due to suicide, it encountered some resistence. But Green, the coroner for Manitowoc County, grasped the value of this story and set to work providing what the paper said was “by far the most detailed” gun death data of any county in the state in the hopes of identifying patterns that could prevent future deaths. It’s great when public officials act with the “public” firmly in mind.

Media Openness Award (“Mopee”): Jacob Resneck

An investigative reporter with Wisconsin Watch, Resneck broke the story on how police agencies in Wisconsin are citing Marsy’s Law, the state constitutional amendment meant to protect victims’ rights, to shield the identity of police officers who shot someone, on grounds that the officers are victims of the people they shoot. He also made extensive use of public records to report on a police cadet who was fired after reporting that a fellow cadet had sexually assaulted her. And Resneck wrote a column for the Council about police video and accountability.

Citizen Openness Award (“Copee”): Common Ground

This Milwaukee-based interfaith advocacy group launched a campaign last year to gather information, much of it from public records, on hazardous conditions inside affordable housing apartments. It then shared this information with tenants and journalists to push the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee to make  improvements. Earlier this year, the group sounded an alarm about dangerously cold apartments, a “systemic problem” the housing authority has known about for years. Now everybody knows.

Open Records Scoop of the Year (“Scoopee”): Lucas Robinson

This Wisconsin State Journal reporter uncovered multiple instances in which the local sheriff’s department sought charges against guards at the state’s Green Bay Correctional facility for offenses including smuggling items into the prison for inmates to neglecting inmates.  One inmate died after guards denied him a wheelchair to go to the infirmary, then failed to check on him. No guards were charged with crimes. Robinson’s reporting, as well as that of The New York Times and other news media outlets, prompted lawmakers to seek reforms.

Whistleblower of the Year (“Whoopee”): Mark Gierl

This former Mequon alderperson twice sued the Mequon-Thiensville School District for denying his requests for email distribution lists. Gierl, represented by Tom Kamenick of the Wisconsin Transparency Project, won each case at both the trial and appellate court level, firmly establishing that such lists kept by government entities must be released on request. An honorable mention in this category goes to the state prison inmates who pushed to make the public aware of dire situations within the state’s correctional system. 

No Friend of Openness (“Nopee”): Bonnie Kindschy

Rarely are public officials as brazen in their contempt for open government as Kindschy, the coroner of Trempealeau County. Alone among the state’s 72 coroners or medical examiners, Kindschy refused to provide records in response to the Journal Sentinel’s gun death investigation. Even after the threat of a lawsuit prompted the county to release the records, Kindschy remained defiant, saying she would “probably not” heed a future request. Arrogant and unaccountable is never a good look.

Your Right to Know is a monthly column distributed by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council (, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group dedicated to open government. Bill Lueders is the group’s president.