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Opinion Archives for 2019-04

Your Right to Know -- Body cam bill balances privacy, openness

When so much about politics is partisan, one might expect a topic like police body cameras to be contentious, particularly as it relates to public access to recordings.
But proposed legislation to regulate the use of these cameras was approved by nine of the 10 members of the committee that produced it, and received unanimous support from the bipartisan Joint Legislative Council. The bill is now working its way through the Legislature.
Last year, another proposed bill to set rules for police body cameras drew concerns from open records advocates and others. Among other things, it would have required anyone who appeared in a body camera recording taken in certain locations to approve of the video’s release to the public. That would create new work for law enforcement and maybe keep too much information out of public view.
The bill was approved by the Assembly, but stalled in the Senate after it became clear that more work needed to be done. A Legislative Study Committee was formed and met four times between July and November of last year. Sen. Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Point) and Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison), who supported competing bills on police body cameras in the previous session served as chair and vice chair, respectively. Committee members included law enforcement, representatives of the media, lawyers, and other lawmakers.
The resulting bill, SB-50, addresses such aspects of police body camera policy as training, equipment, and records retention. Much of the discussion in drafting the proposal focused on public access to recordings.
Wisconsin has a long-standing standard of presuming that all public records are available for the public to view. The committee built on this standard in drafting the proposed legislation, as well as on the experience of other states that have dealt with this issue.
To address the privacy concerns, the committee proposed adjustments to the balancing test as it applies to police body cameras. Records custodians must weigh the privacy interests of victims, minors, and witnesses in deciding whether a video should be released. Redaction technology can be used to protect victims, minors and those with a reasonable expectation of privacy.
The study committee worked hard to reach this agreement. Committee members listened sincerely to those who disagreed with them. Sen. Testin and Rep. Taylor deserve credit for their work leading this committee.
If SB-50 becomes law as currently written, law enforcement agencies will have new rules to help them navigate the use of this new technology. Victims and minors would know that their privacy has protections. The public and the media would continue to have access to police body camera recordings, and they would have the same remedies for appealing a record custodian’s decision as they have today.
SB-50 has not yet been scheduled for a public hearing and lawmakers could make changes to the bill before it comes up for a vote, but the bipartisan support for the bill up to this point is a promising sign.

Your Right to Know is a monthly column distributed by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council (, a group dedicated to open government. Kyle Geissler is director of operations and public affairs at Wisconsin Broadcasters Association.

Civil Discourse, an occasional attempt to restore civility to our civic discourse - David Ward: Most qualified mayor in Sturgeon Bay history

David Ward: Most qualified mayor in Sturgeon Bay history


Civil Discourse, an occasional attempt to restore civility to our civic discourse, by Roger Utnehmer, President and CEO


David Ward is the most qualified mayor to be elected in the history of Sturgeon Bay. He brings to the challenges he will face a Ph.D. in Finance and significant administrative and economic development experience in both the public and private sectors.


His resume qualifies him for an annual salary in the private sector of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Yet, he spent most of his career in public service. Major cities throughout the United States would be proud to have a mayor with David Ward’s resume.


Ward served as the Chief Academic Officer for the 26-campus University of Wisconsin system. He was the interim chancellor at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Before that he was a university professor. He operated his own economic development consulting company for nearly twenty years. His experience includes overseeing budgets ranging from $80 million a year to $6 billion. And he’s also been involved in the local community, serving on the Door County Medical Center board, a leader in his church, city council member and more.


This background assures that David Ward brings to the office of mayor the skill, talent and temperament to solve city problems, to govern with the consent of the governed and to unite a community that occasionally appears to be congenitally addicted to conflict.


It’s time to give this exceptionally qualified public servant what he needs to be successful. That includes respect in disagreement, open communications with civility and recognition of his right to privacy without rude intrusions into time with family. 


The family of any public official also deserves the appreciation of the public.

More than one mayor of Sturgeon Bay has had their privacy and that of their families invaded over a Friday night fish fry with family. Let’s show David Ward and his family the respect they deserve.


May those who disagree with David Ward on the issues he will face show that in Sturgeon Bay there is civility in our civic discourse.


That’s my opinion. I’d like to hear yours.


Civility automatically returned to Sturgeon Bay city government when Thad Birmingham surrendered the reins of power to Mayor David Ward at 3:00 PM April 12, 2019.  Admittedly not ashamed in the least to refresh peoples’ memories, I stood up to interrupt the previous mayor during public comment on International Women’s Day in March of 2017, as a single father of a special needs daughter, while witnessing first hand a loud and abusive tirade being foisted upon a female city resident by the common council chairperson,  falsely refuting and screaming his denial at her, over her correct, accurate, polite and factual assertion that the city was attempting to illegally sell public land to a prospective hotel developer, while disregarding the public trust doctrine of the state constitution.
This same young woman and mother was being threatened around that time period, with a SLAPP suit for telling the truth about then city governance and the WRA closed session machinations, disregarding any pretense to oaths of office or protecting and defending the state constitution.  The acronym SLAPP abbreviates the phrase, Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.  Essentially “shut up or we’ll come after you, big time,” psychological abuse to retain unquestioned power and control.
As a sincere and polite challenge to you, Mayor Ward, kindly explain or clearly define one example of the incivility that you inferred exists, campaigned against and for which you intend to fix.  You’ve got the exclusive floor for three years with most of the local media. Essentially where is or what specifically was the problem?  Constituent city residents fail all litmus tests for exhibiting incivility.  I’m seeing nothing but a perpetrated myth from your campaigning and possibly an intentional clear diversion from problems such as financial realities.  A successful divide and conquer theme on your part.
Regardless, here’s wishing you the best to correct the numerous financial investment mistakes for which you are now charged with oversight, such as an $850K construction loan plus interest for city taxpayers to pay for  out of their own pockets directly to the Bay Lofts LLC.  This debt was committed to by common councils  “serving,” prior to April 17, 2018.  Any specific plans for a taxpayer ROI (Return on Investment) report there?
Hearing specific plans for your professional economic insights into taxpayer return on their forced investment appeared nowhere in your campaigning, but, I agree whole-heartedly that you are likely the best choice, the person immediately available locally, possessing the knowledge and expertise to explain and possibly correct and steer to an enlightened and fairly attained, taxpayer funded equitable ROI for all of Sturgeon Bay’s residents.  With eyes and ears to learn from you and no clear plans from you about how you intend to fulfill your campaign promises, the public, including myself, are eager to learn from the self-professed master of  economics and civility?


As Sturgeon Bay is about to welcome a newly elected group of supervisors and a new mayor, this faction of professed fiscal and civility reformers will be presented with pressing unfinished city business needing immediate attention.  Legal “house-keeping,” chores on the west waterfront, such as ordering the city administrator to finally submit the requisite applications for submerged land leases from the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands is the top priority.  A proposed “lighthouse tower” and a common council approved, state historic designated landmark both await action.
Equally required for both the Teweles and Brandeis restoration and for the improperly land titled, Door County Maritime Museum (DCMM), city voters should be reassured that David Ward as mayor will apply the same strict standards of legal accountability and donor proven adequate future maintenance endowment funding guarantees, surrealistic performance bonding and other assurances from the DCMM that he is demanding of the Sturgeon Bay Historical Society (SBHS) for the grain elevator project, both of which  will eventually be sited on state owned filled lakebed, publicly entrusted to city oversight.  
Unfortunately, confusion exists and currently neither new tax incremental commercial development nor two notable public interest non-profit projects can easily proceed because of the outgoing mayor’s inexcusable failure to have secured the required, non-contested WI DNR issued OHWM demarcations, and the subsequent submerged lakebed land leases for portions of the west waterfront.  
In late March, the DCMM Deputy Director claimed the DCMM was working with the city to secure the required submerged land leases.  An open record request of the city shows no such endeavors occurred within the last 15 months beyond a single email exchange between the city and the DCMM.  A subsequent email reply from the Green Bay office of the WI DNR stated that neither the city nor the DCMM has made the necessary applications for needed submerged land leases.
Not wishing to doubt anyone’s statement made on local radio, have unrecorded and clandestine talks occurred between the city and personally self-interested parties seeking to “resolve,” city public land issues?  Further throwing confusion on this matter is a former WRA member and current DCMM Board of Directors member being one of 22 people, party to an appeal of the Jan 3, 2019, DNR OHWM designation, the granary lot, which seems truly counterproductive to time sensitive adjacent DCMM project goals.
In the public interest, wouldn’t a clarifying public statement from the DCMM, the city administrator and the outgoing mayor need to be heard?  Perhaps the public should be calling on the County DA or the WI DOJ for answers?  Disinformation from David Ward’s campaign blaming likely future hold-ups to ALL progress on the west waterfront on the SBHS, these predictions are definitively NOT attributable to the SBHS or their historic landmark preservation efforts.  Mayor-elect Ward and the newly elected supervisors will surely be demanding to publicly get to the bottom of this situation, their immediate promised fiduciary responsibly to the voters who elected them.

Laurel Hauser Letter to the Editor

The City of Sturgeon Bay’s new council will do a good job. Coming up three votes short and having been part of a council that created a sea change in some very entrenched city politics, I’m in a unique position to say this. The new council will do a good job. They’ll get a lot right. They’ll make some mistakes, and they’ll, for sure, be misunderstood at times. The job is more difficult and more nuanced than people think.


I am sorry that a lot of misinformation made the rounds in the past couple of months. Complex issues don’t translate well to postcards or ads, and the issues the last council dealt with were very complex. I’m very, very proud of the many things we accomplished.


With little time to digest the election results, I will say that my initial thought is that big and fast pendulum swings are exhausting, and they are the direct result of uncreative leadership.

As we negotiate some of the challenges and the exciting opportunities in our future (and there are a lot of them), I hope we all resist the urge to be flame-fanners. Every society needs a few fanners – so the fire doesn’t go out completely – but it needs far more fire tenders. If you’re a citizen and the only way and time you’re involved is incendiary, you’re not helping. If you’re an elected official and your only answer is “no,” you’re not doing enough.


Going forward, we will need good administration and creative vision. We need both to be outstanding. These virtues rely on good communication. I already see some change happening. When I was elected in 2017, there was little to no discussion between ousted and elected candidates. My opponent in 2019 and I have already exchanged very pleasant notes and are making plans to get together for coffee. That’s a good thing.


Please, no one give up on Sturgeon Bay and, please, don’t dig the trenches deeper. There are more than two sides. We have a community full of talent and passion. I can’t wait to see what Sturgeon Bay looks like ten years from now. I think it’s going to be awesome. (And I don’t use that as a throw-away word.)


Thank you to all who have gotten involved. Please stay involved. As for my own race, we’ll see what evolves in the coming days. I may owe it to the democratic process to have a 3-vote margin recounted. I’ll talk with our city clerk and will try to make a wise decision on that. I’m heartened that I received more votes in yesterday’s election (245) than I received in 2017 (230), and sincerely thank everyone who supported me.


Laurel Hauser

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