Public Records are Not Created Equally
On Friday, the Wisconsin State Journal fawned over Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen in an editorial. It was about a recent opinion that he issued regarding open records on traffic accidents and crime in local communities. While the paper praised Van Hollen for sending a ‘strong signal’ it would have been nice if they also called for a consistent one. Neither Van Hollen nor his office have been the sterling example of openness that the WSJ portrays in its editorial.
One good example of inconsistency involves an open records request for state emails from One Wisconsin Now to Burnett County Judge Michael Gableman. We requested any emails on his state email account that fit a list of mostly political names and terms. After seeking counsel from J.B. Van Hollen’s Department of Justice, Gableman determined that eight of those emails could be classified as ‘purely personal.’ As a result, Gableman refused to turn over those emails from his taxpayer funded email account. We submitted a scaled down list of keywords and even suggested that Gableman redact any ‘purely personal’ items in the eight emails. Unfortunately they just ignored our requests, using the advice from the DOJ as the basis for hiding the public records.
Apparently J.B. Van Hollen considers records involving a person’s urinating dog to be fair game while a public official’s questionable use of a state email account should remain secret. There seems to be a theme developing with J.B. Van Hollen and open records. If the requested records have a chance of holding political friends and allies accountable, they should remain secret. If they merely embarrass a pet owner or a local police department, it’s A-OK for release. J.B. Van Hollen applies these kinds of inconsistent standards and still manages to score a rousing editorial in the state’s newspaper of record. While that may be great from a public relations standpoint, it is hardly a triumph for public record access in Wisconsin.