One of the ways to insure freedom is to have open access to the workings of our government. Whether it be the local school board, village and town boards, city council, county board, state and federal government. It’s called the Open Records and Open Meeting Law, and the state of Wisconsin has one of the best rules to keep the public informed.
However, last week, at Madison, Republican members of the powerful Joint Finance Committee put provisions into the budget that would sharply limit public records requests for lawmakers’ communication with staff and for drafting records of legislation.
Now, as I am sitting at my desk in the Western part of Wisconsin, I have never requested any record from a lawmaker in Madison, but I know many of the state’s Fourth Estate members have in crafting stories about the state government and any attempt to limit accesses to public records is wrong.
I left my office last Thursday to spend the Fourth of July weekend at the lake and when I returned on Monday morning my e-mails were full of information about the “Motion 999” to make changes to the open records rules. I tried to get more information on how that would affect the reporting of the news at the state capitol and then I came upon a press release from the Governor’s office dated July 4 at 3:03 p.m. stating:
“Governor Scott Walker, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, and Joint Finance Committee Co-chairs, Senator Alberta Darling and Representative John Nygren, released the following statement on the provisions related to the state’s open records law included in Motion 999.”
“After substantive discussion over the last day, we have agreed that the provisions relating to any changes in the state’s open records law will be removed from the budget in its entirety. We are steadfastly committed to open and accountable government. The intended policy goal of these changes was to provide a reasonably solution to protect constituents’ privacy and to encourage a deliberative process between elected officials and their staff in developing policy. It was never intended to inhibited transparent government in any way.”
Over the many years that I have attended public meetings of boards in our area, I have heard requests from board members to move a topic into a closed session. Apparently members of a board would be able to discuss a matter better if the public is not listening.
At last month’s city council meeting a member requested a closed session on the topic of hiring a city attorney. I was happy that the mayor put that request down. Many years ago, the Glenwood City and Boyceville School board were meeting in a joint session, the only one that I can remember, with the topic being a discussion on having one person serve as superintendent of both school districts. It took only a couple of minutes into the meeting before it was moved to a closed-door meeting and I and other members of the public had to leave the meeting. In my opinion, that was a violation of the open meeting law as there was no provisions in the law that fit into that discussion and it kept the public from knowing what was happening and why with the two school districts. As far as I know, that was the only meeting the two boards had and nothing ever materialized of a joint superintendent idea.
But, all is well that ends well.
Thanks for reading! — Carlton