"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 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.