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GovInfoDay: WI Freedom of Information Council

Posted by on Friday, May 29, 2009 in WLA Blog Archive

"Open Government in Wisconsin"
Christa Westerberg, FOIC Vice President
McGillivray Westerberg & Bender

Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council

  • Non-profit organization, affiliate of national FOI Coalition - Promoting informed democracy
  • Our focus is Wisconsin government info in particular
  • Many members from media
  • My interest is as an attorney - filing open records requests for local zoning issues, deficient notification of open meetings
  • WFOIC website - post laws (including case laws that are often not available without paid subscription), Attorney General opinions, WI DOJ compliance guides, suggested template for open records request, links to related organizations
  • Publish monthly "Your Right to Know" column, often in newspapers
  • Offer "Pocket Compliance Guides"
  • Annual "Opee Awards" - cheers & jeers
  • Special projects - ex: journalism school conducted audit

How do you make a records request?

  • To the "records custodian" - suggested to do it in writing, be as specific as possible (see WFOIC template)
  • Legal case coming up right now about access to non-work-related email on public servers
  • Some info exempt (ex: health records)
  • Supposed to respond "as soon as practicable and without delay" - 10 business days recommended
  • Can charge requester certain location fees, mailing costs & copying fees (WI DOJ suggests 15 cents/page)
  • Materials (circulated or held?) by public libraries aren't subject to the law

Open Meetings

  • Open meetings aren't required to keep minutes - just roll & motions.
  • Closed sessions are suggested to record audio or audio/video, because prone to legislation
  • Q: Apply to all our meetings, since we work for state educational institutions? A: Some rulings on this, should apply to most important academic meetings.
  • Q: Walking quorum? A: Not allowed - it's when a chair talks to each person who makes up a quorum in person and comes to a consensus, without even holding a meeting.

U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

  • New ruling 2009 - presumption of openness, burden not on requester to prove it should be open
  • U.S. DOJ website has list of FOIA contacts for each agency
  • Responses supposed to be provided in 20 days, with possible 10 day extension - in actuality, can take years...
  • Fee waiver available for public interest
  • Many more exemptions than Wisconsin law, including inter-agency memoranda

Q: Any recommendations for government document librarians? A: Welcome to attend trainings, spread information through your communication channels, distro pocket compliance guides, Sunshine Week is good time, contact us with questions.

Q: Anything we can collect to support people doing FOIA requests? Common information sought? A: Local government issues - meeting minutes (can direct to their websites), municipal ordinances, statutes that specify reporting requirements, media often know what they're looking for.

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