Updated 4/15/11 MacIver News Service | April 14, 2011[Madison, Wisc…] The MacIver Institute is pressing on with efforts to obtain public records in spite of the financial hurdles imposed by several Wisconsin public officials.
MacIver Institute President Brett Healy says his organization has launched a fund-raising effort to either meet the financial demands required to obtain access to lawmakers’ emails, or to fight the imposition of the fees in court.
“One way or another we will make sure the public has access to these obviously public records,” said Healy. “We think these proposed fees are ridiculous and not in the public’s interest and it raises the question: what are they trying to hide.”
The MacIver Institute sent nearly identical requests to at least six lawmakers, the Dane County Executive, the Chair of the Dane County Board the Mayor of Madison and Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug Lafollette.
The requests were for the following information:
“Copies of all correspondence you have received or sent, (including, but not limited to, letters, emails, voice mails, records of phone calls, and logs of in-person meetings) regarding the subject of changes to Wisconsin’s collective bargaining laws for public employees. This request covers such correspondence received or sent between January 1, 2011 and March 23, 2011.”
In an email response dated March 30, Representative Mark Pocan (D-Madison) personally alleged it would take two staffers, working full time, two weeks to comply with the request.
“A quick review of our office files pertaining to collective bargaining laws for public employees, 2011 SSSB 11, 2011 SSAB 11, and 2011 Wis. Act 10 indicates that there are over 8,000 documents that would meet this search criteria,” Pocan wrote. “Our office anticipates that copying costs for this request will be a minimum of $1,500 and that fulfilling this request will require approximately 80 hours of staff time, which if pro rated for staff salaries, would cost approximately $2,600.”
Mike Murray, a member of Representative Joe Parisi (D-Madison) staff offered a similar response via email one day earlier.
“A cursory review of our office files pertaining to collective bargaining laws for public employees, 2011 SSSB 11, 2011 SSAB 11, and 2011 Wis. Act 10 indicates that there are, at a minimum, 8,000 documents that would meet this search criteria,” Murray wrote on March 29. “Our office anticipates that copying costs for this request will be a minimum of $1,500 and that fulfilling this request will require approximately 60 hours of staff time, which if pro rated for staff salaries, would cost approximately $1,750.”
State law allows public officials to charge “the actual, necessary and direct cost” of locating records, requested under the state’s open records law. However, Brett Healy, President of the MacIver Institute, doubts locating the records would be so labor intensive.
The lawmakers contend that staff must individually print each email and redact the names, email addresses and other identifying information from every constituent.
Healy believes that information is public so the labor cost associated with such an effort is unnecessary.
“Governor Walker recently turned over a disk containing tens of thousands of constituent contacts to several media outlets, we believe that is the most honest, cost-effective course of action in this case as well,” said Healy. “Any further attempts to impose a fee for access to this information are merely efforts to stonewall our inquiry, pure and simple.”
Healy said that, as was the case with the governor’s constituent contacts, MacIver has agreed not to use the names of individuals who have sent emails to the governor in cases where there is reason for withholding them, as when they contain personal medical or financial information or raise a concern about retribution. The MacIver Institute also agreed not to use, publish or disclose any home addresses, email addresses, telephone numbers or Social Security numbers that may be contained in these emails.
“We’ve accommodated their concerns, now it’s time for them to comply with Wisconsin’s Open Records Law,” said Healy. “We are now left with no choice but to raise funds for a potential legal challenge. Those who want to help us get to the truth can visit www.MacIverInstitute.com for more information.”
The MacIver Institute is a Wisconsin-based think tank that espouses the virtues of the Free Market, individual liberty and open government. They operate the MacIver News Service, the WisconsinOpenGov.com web portal for public employee salary information and publish original research and commentary on a variety of public policy issues.
|Date of Request||Status of MacIver Institute Open Records Request|
|Sec. of State Doug La Follette||March 18||3/22 additional info requested, revised request made 3/23|
|Senate Majority Leader Mark Miller||March 24||4/5 asked to narrow request to exclude ‘private’ citizen communications or face considerable expense|
|State Senator Fred Risser||March 24||4/4 nearly identical response as Senator Miller’s. Indicates over 50,000 contacts on issue|
|State Senator John Erpenbach||March 24||Staff left voicemail week of 3/28 seeking clarification. Reply email sent 4/1. Clarification/narrowing of request requested by Senator himself on 4/5. Said 25,000 contacts would not be delivered via electronic format.|
|State Representative Joel Parisi||March 24||3/29 Staff email- Our office anticipates that copying costs for this request will be a minimum of $1,500 and that fulfilling this request will require approximately 60 hours of staff time, which if pro rated for staff salaries, would cost approximately $1,750.”
4/6 denied electronic records, writing “Any attempt to obtain the personal citizen information you seek also constitutes an undue interference with that citizen’s U.S. Const. Amend. I and Wis. Const. Art. I, Sec. 4 rights to petition his government. Such interference chills free speech and debate and operates as a prior restraint of rights. As a result, the personal citizen information you seek is not subject to Wisconsin’s Public Records Law.” Said paper records could be available with a minimum 60 hours of staff’s work.
|State Representative Mark Pocan||March 24||3/30 Email from Rep. Pocan “hat there are over 8,000 documents that would meet this search criteria. Our office anticipates that copying costs for this request will be a minimum of $1,500 and that fulfilling this request will require approximately 80 hours of staff time, which if pro rated for staff salaries, would cost approximately $2,600.”|
|State Representative Helen Kelda Roys||April 15||4/14/11 UPDATE, See Below
|Interim Dane Co. Exec Kathleen Falk||March 24||No Response|
|Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz||March 24||4/7 Mayor’s staff leave voicemail requesting clarification, emails exchanged week of 4/12 regarding search terms.|
|Dane Co. Board Chair Scott McDonell||March 24||No Response|
Regarding our open records requests to the state lawmakers, which were all sent via US Mail on the same day, we received the following email late Thursday afternoon. In response, we have updated the chart, printed the contents of the email and will deliver a copy of the request to her office today.
It has come to my attention that in a blog post on April 14, 2011, you allege that my office has received and not responded to an open records request from your organization.
To this date, neither my staff nor I have received an open records request from you or anyone in your organization’s employ. We have reviewed all of our records and took the extra step of contacting the Legislative Technology Services Bureau to ensure that we received no request from your organization. LTSB has confirmed that no record of contact has been found from your organization on this issue.
I have always directed my office to work diligently to respond to all open records requests. If you would like to submit an open records request, you may reply to this email, or send a paper copy to my office at:
Room 113 North
P.O. Box 8953
Madison, WI 53708
Finally, I request in the strongest possible terms that any mention of me be removed from your blog immediately, as well as corrected in any other formats where this misinformation may have been distributed.
KELDA HELEN ROYS
ASSEMBLY DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS CHAIR
Wisconsin State Assembly
Room 113 North
P.O. Box 8953
Madison, WI 53708
Fax (608) 282-3681