Opinion Archives for 2019-12

Letter to Editor: WARD'S WOOLEN MILLS WORKING OVERTIME

With a seeming intent to craft a thick and opaque blanket, to “pull the wool” over the public eyes on the west waterfront development at the December 17, 2019 regular common council meeting, City of Sturgeon Bay taxpayers might want to chime in very soon to protect their pocket books.
Mayor Ward, since the “acceptance,” of Ad Hoc West Waterfront ADVISORY recommendations, has repeatedly pushed his unilateral plan, outlining “four steps,” defining how to implement the still unapproved ad hoc waterfront concepts.   Another $30K is now heading out the door for estimates to hurriedly implement one single aspect of an enormously complex and still unapproved plan, an arguably unnecessary and ill-advised piecemeal approach, cart-before-the-horse decision that will undoubtedly waste significant taxpayer money.  You correctly might ask, why the rush?
Individuals quick with making jokes about a “granary,” annual bridge crossing festival shouldn’t need reminders that the City currently has a binding development agreement with the Sturgeon Bay Historical Society.  Until such time the common council majority has the political courage, fortitude and conviction to legally alter that SBHS development agreement, Lot 92 is the final destination for the granary.  The mayor, city administrator, city attorney and common council majority need to officially act with legal remedies, or they should quit public whining about supposed problems with the SBHS.    
Anyone without Ward’s woolen blanket tightly wrapped over their eyes yet, recognizes that his hasty push to build an unapproved waterfront promenade also becomes the hasty push that could immediately cause relocation of the iconic tugboats.  The waterfront promenade becomes the false flag project “requiring,” immediate city action to force removal of the tugs.  City leadership could claim they no longer have any choice in the matter and invoke plausible deniability. “We didn’t see this coming.”     
Considering Ms Reeth’s breathless one-liner concern over attorney fees spent in regard to waterfront litigation, she will undoubtedly separate the costs for which she, along with alders Bacon, Nault and Williams voted to incur, to employ Madison-based attorneys to seek leave for filing an Amicus Brief with Judge Gill’s court over the recent Wiese, et.al., appeal, challenging the WI DNR ordinary high water mark ruling for city lot #92.  
Reeths should inquire whether the mayor and city staff instructed these attorneys, or did these attorneys “advise” the “city,” to seek leave to file their Amicus Brief on a topic entirely outside the legal purview of the actual ruling before Judge Gill’s court?  She will undoubtedly be informing city taxpayers about why that money was spent for legal work not explicitly approved by her common council vote. 
Reeths surely will report the potential legal fees to be incurred, should the city desire to quit making veiled insinuations about “problems” with the current SBHS development agreement and vote to officially change that agreement.  She’ll also undoubtedly inquire about the legal costs that will be incurred if the city is forced to defend any alleged breach of the current SBHS development agreement.  
Deliberately misspelling one word (for civility sake) in the familiar colloquial admonition, “Sit or get off the pot,” here directed to majority city leadership and some city staff, please, enough with public opinion manipulation, and please, enough of the divide and conquer tactics and misdirection over the issues of the tugs remaining on the waterfront, the ultimate location of the granary, and on the pretense that an advisory ad hoc plan has already been approved.  Very few people are falling for this city government majority charade. 

 

Your Right to Know -- Don't block anonymous requests

You can walk into City Hall asking to see records without ever having to give your name. 


You can mail or email an open records request to any public entity without giving any indication of who you are.


You don’t even need to submit a written request. You can make the request orally and still remain anonymous.


That’s because, while there are a few exceptions, Wisconsin’s open records law states: “No request … may be refused because the person making the request is unwilling to be identified or to state the purpose of the request.”


The law’s chief author, Lynn Adelman, a former state legislator who’s now a federal judge, has said that provision was so important to him that he would have scrapped the legislation entirely if an amendment to remove it had passed.


Yet, in at least two recent cases, that right has been challenged. 


An anonymous requester sued the Madison Metropolitan School District in November for refusing to release records unless the requester revealed his or her identity. The person, according to the suit, made 26 requests between July and October. The school district ignored some of them. It responded to others by saying it needed to know the requester’s name to ensure he or she posed no threat.


That’s one of the exceptions to the anonymity provision of the law — if there’s a safety concern that outweighs the presumption of disclosure. Another is that if student or health records are requested, the custodian should confirm the requester is authorized to receive them.


The requests in the Madison case are for routine documents, such as school board updates and a school improvement plan. As the requester’s attorney, Tom Kamenick, notes in the suit, the records are “not focused on any individual, and they contain no information that would put any person’s safety in danger if revealed.”


There are circumstances in which the exemption can be legitimately applied — for example, a request by a domestic abuser for records about the abuser’s victim. This isn’t one of them. 


In a second case, the village of Ashwaubenon refused an anonymous request in March. The requester had asked for the billing records of an outside law firm the village had hired to conduct personnel investigations. 


The requester used the pseudonyms Mr. M or Richard Marven, a Navy officer who was a whistleblower in the Revolutionary War.


The village’s attorney responded in April by asking the requester to make an appointment at city hall to access a copy of the records. 


After several email exchanges didn’t lead to a resolution, the requester filed suit in June, contending the village and its attorney refused to provide copies of the records by mail or email and required the requester to appear in person to inspect them.


In October, the case was settled and the requester, who was not required to reveal his or her name, said the records were made available.


The presumption of openness in Wisconsin government means there should be as few obstacles to openness as possible. Requiring records requesters to identify themselves is an obstacle. 


Citizens would be less likely to make requests without the right to anonymity. That’s why the law was clearly written to prevent governments from denying public information to people for whom this is important.


The anonymity provision is crucial to the state open records law. Our governments need to understand that — and obey the law.

 

Your Right to Know is a monthly column distributed by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council (wisfoic.org), a group dedicated to open government. Council member Larry Gallup is the digital news director for USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin.

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