A suspicious lack of record keeping throughout the Evers Administration is just one example of its open disdain for transparent government and a solid reminder why journalists promote “Sunshine Week” every March.
By Bill Osmulski
The first year of the Evers’ Administration is in the books, but apparently there aren’t many records in those books and you have to file a lawsuit to see the ones that are there.
Gov. Tony Evers has the distinction of being the defendant in three separate lawsuits over his refusal to provide records or access to his administration.
The MacIver News Service is suing Evers because he refuses to give it the same access to email advisories and events that he gives to other news outlets. That’s a violation of the First and Fourth Amendments of the US Constitution. The judge could make a ruling any day on it.
Rep. John Nygren, Co-Chair the Joint Committee on Finance, is suing the Evers Administration for refusing to hand over records related to a policy request. Gov. Evers asked the legislature for $100,000 for farmer mental health programs. Nygren simply wanted the documents that provided the rationale for that amount. Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for April 9th.
Finally, there is FOX6 in Milwaukee. The station routinely requests two-weeks of emails from public officials to ensure they are acting appropriately and in the public’s best interest. It’s never been a problem before they asked Gov. Evers.
FOX6 reporter Amanda St. Hilaire requested every email between Gov. Evers and his Chief of Staff, Magie Gau for two two-week periods. The station also wanted every email Gau sent or received during that same period. Evers’ lawyer rejected the claim because there were over 10,000 records and she said it was too broad.
Finally, St. Hilaire asked Gov. Tony Evers directly at a press conference why he refuses to comply with the state’s open records law. Evers’ said he did not know about the request.
“Oh, that’ll be pretty, pretty boring I’ll tell ya. If I do one email a day, that’s an extraordinary day. So, we’ll work on that,” Evers said.
He agreed to release the emails, adding “It’s pretty boring. I mean, I can’t remember sending an email all week.”
After the press conference Evers’ deputy Chief of Staff, Melissa Baldauff, said that’s not going to happen. Hence the lawsuit filed on Dec. 17th. It’s still in the early phases.
Evers’ comments at that press conference point to another problem with how his Administration conducts public business – off the books. If the governor of Wisconsin has truly gone an entire week without sending an email, then he isn’t doing his job or he’s running the government with head nods and high fives.
There are other indications that this is standard operating procedure in the Evers’ Administration. Department of Transportation Secretary-Designee Craig Thompson faced a major controversy by awarding a $126 million single-bid contract. While deliberating that decision, Thompson did not produce nor receive a single memo, email, or phone call about it, according to the findings of an open records request by the MacIver News Service.
Given the Evers’ Administration’s open contempt for transparency and state law, it’s not surprising he’s facing three lawsuits.
None of the requests were unreasonable. MacIver wants to be included on email distribution lists, Nygren wanted documents that he’s since been able to obtain from other sources, and St. Hilaire just wants a single day’s worth of emails. Even one of Evers’ natural allies isn’t with him on this. Bill Lueders, editor of The Progressive magazine, has openly criticized the governor’s actions. (Of course, Lueders is also president of the Wis. Freedom of Information Council and expects all public officials to follow the same standard.)
The only logical reasons why Evers’ refuses to give in are stubbornness, arrogance, and pettiness. It’s exactly why America has a free press, and why it is destined to continually clash with Evers’ for the remaining three years of his term.