« Ind. Gov't. - "Why Indy is worried the NRA could sue the city" Or, why is Indy worried? | Main | Ind. Courts - "Carmel faces federal class action lawsuit over traffic law" »

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Ind. Gov't. - More on "Wis. state officials backtrack on open records changes"

That was the headline to this Dec. 18, 2015 ILB post. It quoted a headline in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Today, a new long story in the Journal-Sentinel, by the same reporter, Mary Spicuzza. The headline: "Records Board backtracks amid public outcry on access." A few quotes:

Faced with a fierce backlash from members of the public and open government groups, state officials have rescinded a recent move that's been used to limit citizen access to some records.

The state Public Records Board voted unanimously Monday to revoke its August decision that expanded the definition of records considered to have temporary significance, known as transitory records. Such records could be immediately destroyed by government officials.

The board's decision came after nearly 1,900 emails and letters poured in from around the state in advance of its meeting in Madison, with hundreds of Wisconsinites writing to say they opposed the changes. The emails were posted to a state website before the meeting, and more than a dozen others spoke out against the changes at the meeting. * * *

Blessing, the head of the board, initially said the move to cut back on requirements for maintaining some records was not significant enough to warrant advance public notice. But just a few days after the open meetings violation complaint was filed, Blessing said the board would re-evaluate the matter in hopes of avoiding an expensive court battle.

Before the board's August vote, transitory records were described as "correspondence and other related records of short-term interest which have no documentary or evidentiary value." The new definition expanded that description to include "emails to schedule or confirm meetings or events, committee agendas and minutes received by members on a distribution list, interim files, tracking and control files, recordings used for training purposes and ad hoc reports for individual use."

The recent battle over open records in Wisconsin is just the latest fight to erupt around the country over public access to government officials' texts and other electronic messages.

It's also the last in a string of actions taken in Wisconsin over the past year aimed at limiting open records.

In July, just before Independence Day weekend, Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee unexpectedly amended the state budget to put sweeping limits on open records. Under withering criticism from both Democrats and other Republicans, GOP leaders quickly retreated, saying they would instead appoint a study committee to consider how to treat the matter.

The governor's office has withheld some records that include internal deliberations, saying that releasing them could inhibit the free exchange of ideas within his administration. State law doesn't specifically recognize that as a reason for withholding records.

In an interview Monday before the Public Records Board met, Attorney General Brad Schimel said he was glad it was revisiting the issue.

"I very much favor erring on the side of openness," the Republican attorney general said.

He added that he saw a need for stronger guidance to public employees about what records they need to retain. And he'd like to see the open records law updated to account for changes in technology, noting government business is now sometimes conducted by text messages and instant messages.

"Any time anybody tries to make changes to the open government laws, they should do so very cautiously. It's a place that you can make errors that will cause a lot of trouble," Schimel said.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on January 12, 2016 09:06 AM
Posted to Indiana Government