Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council

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Oct. 15, 2009

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The Wisconsin Freedom of Information CouncilMinutes of Oct. 15, 2009 meeting 

The meeting was called to order at 1:35 p.m. Present were Bill Lueders, Christa Westerberg, Bob Dreps, Michael Buelow, Gordon Govier, Andy Hall, Tom Koetting, Doug Wojcik, Bob Welch, Dave Zweifel, Bob Dreschel, Roger Schneider, Jim Winter, Peter Fox, Mark Pitsch, Steve Lovejoy and Dee Hall

 

The minutes of the July 16, 2009 meeting were approved.

 

Treasurer's report: Bob Dreschel indicated that FOIC earned $12.11 in interest on a balance of $6,891.60 on its money market account.

 

President's report:  Bill Lueders noted that we now have a speaker's bureau listed on our website. He and Christa Westerberg spoke in August to the Wisconsin Counties Association. He presented the top 10 things that records requesters want, which was turned into an FOIC column.

 

Lueders also reported that the FOIC executive board had approved up to $1,500 to pay for an amicus brief in the Wisconsin Rapids teacher e-mail case. Representatives of Wisconsin Newspapers Association, the Associated Press and the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association also offered financial assistance to the effort.

 

FOIC legislative watch: Lueders gave updates on AB 349 and AB 340. AB 349 would require public entities with on-line property tax databases to exclude the names of the property owners. AB 340, a proposal by Rep. Marlin Schneider, would remove certain records from the WCCA database that are currently available.

 

Lueders also presented an updated list of 12 "open government problem areas," last updated in 2005. The items were: High costs, e-mail records, delays, police and prosecution records, draft status, quasi-governmental entities, closed meetings, vague agenda items, attorney-client privilege, medical privacy, other privacy protections, and claims of abuse.

 

Pedro Oliviera of the Janesville Gazette addressed the board about problems he had encountered getting sealed court records from Walworth County. Oliviera said he'd been unsuccessful in unsealing the records or even finding out how many or which types of court records had been sealed. Westerberg suggested he check to see whether the sealing policy in Walworth County comports with state policy or law. Dreps indicated that search warrants often are sealed until they're executed and an affidavit listing the items seized is filed. Those records also can be sealed "for cause" but the existence of the record, even if sealed, must be public.

 

Lueders presented an updated "Wisconsin FOIC Legislative Watch" of measures tracked or sought by the council, including: Restricted access to court records, a state shield law, Department of Regulation and Licensing (DRL) lists, improved access to statements of economic interest, clarification of open police records, eliminating the open-meetings exemption for partisan legislative caucuses, contractor records, and Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association openness.

 

Discussion: Should the council ever support efforts to restrict access to information? Guest Mike Murray, an aide to state Rep. Joe Parisi, explained the idea behind keeping some property owner names secret, primarily fears by domestic violence and other victims that perpetrators could more easily find them. Lueders suggested that rather than a broad exemption of all property owners' names, that victims could request that their names be excluded.

 

Murray stated that Rep. Parisi also was interested in what should be done about wrongful convictions; whether such people should be allowed expungement of their records. Lueders stated that the State Bar of Wisconsin is seeking broader expungement policies which would call for records of expunged convictions to be destroyed. Murray said the Legislature appears poised to impose more limits on what shows up on WCCA, given the number of people who've complained about losing jobs or housing options, even if charges against them are dismissed or the criminal incidents are minor.

 

Lueders summed up the concensus of the discussion: The council has no objection to letting people with safety concerns opt out of property databases. However, the council remains ambivalent about removing names from electronic databases of wrongful convictions because it makes investigating and documenting such cases more difficult.

 

Web site: Gina Duwe said the website is getting a couple of hundred hits a month.  The top two areas of the site accessed are "About the FOIC" and "need help."

 

Legal update: Bob Dreps said the amicus brief in the Wisconsin Rapids case had been filed. The lawsuit by teachers seeks to block public access to e-mails which they contend are private but which the district has labeled as public. Dreps also updated the council on two Fox Valley cases. In Manitowoc, the local newspaper wanted to know whether a police officer arrested for DUI at three times the legal limit was disciplined. The case was settled after the municipality agreed to pay the paper’s $3,500 legal fess; some information was withheld because it related to medical or mental health treatment. In Green Bay, the Press-Gazette sought legal bills from 24 area communities. The city of Green Bay refused to share the actual records, instead creating a chart that showed the names of law firms, how much they were paid and a short description of the work done. Brown County Judge McKay ordered the city to turn over the requested records with "virtually no redactions."

 

Dreps provided an update on the lawsuit between The Capital Times and Gov. Jim Doyle over timely access to records of judicial candidates seeking appointment to the Dane County bench by Doyle. The governor released the records almost simultaneously with his announcement of who he'd chosen.

 

Legislative update: Peter Fox discussed the proposed shield law. He indicated that most news organizations have strong policies governing and limiting the use of anonymous sources. Nonetheless, they also want such sources protected and favor a law that would do that. There also was discussion of Rep. Spencer Black's bill to put statements of economic interest online, and a bill to subject WIAA to the open meetings and open records laws, by barring school districts joining any athletic conference that does not adhere to these laws.

 

Council membership: Dee Hall moved and Mike Buelow seconded a motion to induct new FOIC members Jim Winters of the DeForest Times Tribune and Steve Lovejoy of the Racine Journal Times as the WNA representatives. Tim Kelley became an associate member. The council also is seeking representatives for three slots for the WBA.

 

Your Right to Know column: Lueders announced that he was taking over duties of the monthly column from Kelley.

 

The council set Thursday, Jan. 14, 2010 as its next meeting date.