Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council

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Oct. 11, 2012

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Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council

Oct. 11, 2012 meeting
Capital Newspapers Auditorium

1) The meeting was called to order at 2:05 p.m. In attendance were Dee Hall, Christa Westerberg, Bill
Lueders, Bob Drechsel, Mark Pitsch, Roger Schneider, John Dye, Doug Wojcik, Dave Zweifel, Tom Bier,
Anita Weier, Andy Hall, Bob Dreps, Steve Lovejoy, Michelle Vetterkind and guests Orville Seymer of
Citizens for Responsible Government and attorney April Barker.

2) Approval of the minutes. Minutes for the July 12, 2012 meeting were approved.

3) Treasurer’s report. Drechsel reported that the council had $4,758 in assets. The only major expense
was to Schott, Bublitz & Engel for $1,666.66 in legal fees in the Juneau County case.

4) President’s report. Lueders presented the following report:
a) There was very favorable response to Madison’s hosting of the national FOIC convention.
b) There are pending issues with the attorney general’s office, including our request that the office
revisit its opinion that requesters can be charged $1.25/page for taking photographs of court documents.
Westerberg noted that clerks of court support this stance, since fees are a major source of revenue.
Westerberg also said the Innocence Project may be willing to weigh in on our side since copying court
documents is a major cost for them. Dreps also raised another issue about the AG’s office. He said the 7th
U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had determined that putting tickets on car windshields violates the Driver
Privacy Protection Act. He said the AG is reviewing that decision, which could lead to other restrictions on
personal information.
c) The AG’s office is once again providing FOIC with copies of its opinion letters.
d) Lueders said he participated in a half-day meeting for the “Our Courts Wisconsin” program to
create educational materials for adults on legal issues.
e) The Milwaukee County Board has begun taping meetings and airing them in real time as well
as archiving them online. Alan Ferguson, a retired police officer, has volunteered to see whether other
jurisdictions would consider a similar move toward transparency.
f) The council has been asked to participate in an Oct. 16 ACLU session on photographers’ rights.
Lueders noted that training is uneven, with the Madison Police offering training at the supervisor level
but not at the street officer level where conflicts tend to occur. Wojcik noted that photographers with good
relations with the police tend to get better access. Milwaukee P.D. was asked whether it would welcome
additional training from FOIC but there was no response.

5) Discussion: Should council take a stand on crackdown on protesters at the Capitol? Members discussed
the fact that some people were arrested for taking photos in the Capitol. The open-meetings law calls for
reasonable accommodations for people taking photos or video. A. Hall said taking a stand on this felt
outside of FOIC’s core mission. Westerberg noted that state Rep. Jon Richards has proposed a bill that
would make the Legislature subject to the open-meetings law.

6) Members discussed whether the council should establish a legal defense fund using grant funds and
donations from the public. The national FOIC has a fund, but Lovejoy noted it doesn’t cover legal costs,
just out of pocket expenses. Suggestions included a cap of $100 an hour or a maximum $5,000. Any party
awarded fees could be required to repay the fund. Pitsch noted that SPJ has a national legal defense fund.
Vetterkind also suggested that it be set up as a matching fund. Westerberg said the fund might be most
useful for open-meetings cases where there may be no cost recovery. Dreps was skeptical that the fund
would do much good since most cases cost between $5,000 and $10,000. Lueders suggested asking the
national FOIC for a pool of money that Wisconsin FOIC could direct for legal purposes. A. Hall from the
Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism said he could research possible funding sources.

7) Westerberg reported about a Marinette County case involving access to ballots in an open-records case.
She said GAB had sent an advisory memo saying no one should touch the ballots. She said local clerk staff
was offering to display the ballots to requesters for $26/hour over two days. After filing suit, Westerberg
said the case was settled when the county agreed to let requesters handle the ballots at no charge. Dreps
said a similar situation emerged in Waukesha County. He said federal law requires jurisdictions to keep
ballots for 22 months. State law is just 30 days, and longer if there is a recount.

8) Lueders reported on a Judicial Council proposal to prohibit the identification of victims in appeals
cases. Dreps said he was not sure of the rationale behind it.

9) Legal update: Lueders reported that the Juneau County case is aimed at interpreting the application
of the open-records law when it comes to government contractors. Westerberg discussed the Center for
Media & Democracy and Common Cause lawsuit re: lawmakers’ missing emails. Lueders said this is at
least the third case involving the use by public officials of private emails to evade the open-records law.
The council urged news organizations to pursue such emails, and Lueders recommended that the AG tell
officials only to use official email on official business.

10) Other issues: Indiana wrestles with curtailed access to records of criminal convictions. Nopee winner
Sauk County (ironically!) threatens to sue federal government for withholding records of Ho-Chunk
expansion plans; and other issues.

11) Web site: Lueders reported that Wis FOIC has 178 “likes” on Facebook. He described a national
FOIC initiative to beef up locals’ websites. Westerberg thanked John Foust for handling questions to our
Facebook page. She noted the need to update our law and minutes sections.

12) Your Right to Know column: Lueders was looking for ways to boost pickup of the column. Dreps noted
that the AG compliance guide is very blunt in saying public business conducted on private email is public;
guest Orville Seymer noted that many small municipalities don’t have government-issued email accounts.
D. Hall offered to write a column on the use of private emails.

13) Council membership. The roster currently is full except for a representative of the Wisconsin News
Photographers Association.

14) Other business: Beth Bennett is working on a draft bill to require recording of closed-door meetings.
A. Hall discussed the Wisconsin Watchdog awards dinner to be held in the spring. Some suggested a
celebration of the 30th anniversary of the state open-records and open-meetings laws. Perhaps have bill
sponsor Lynn Adelman honored? Westerberg also reported that the state Department of Agriculture,
Trade and Consumer Protection was holding closed-door meetings on rules. Schneider reported that just
100 names of the thousands of holders of wolf-hunting permits were open; everyone else opted out. Next
meeting was scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 17 at 2 p.m.

15) The meeting was adjourned at 3:30 p.m.