Friday, June 19, 2009

UPDATE on the "Red Alert: Library Board Meets Legally"

Gosh, it's amazing what happens when you actually find out what's going on.

Not nearly as much fun though.

From the Daily News
Schanning, who has stated open records requests should be complied with as broadly as possible, interpreted the use of the word “staff” to include the Library Board, Deters said.
“We turned (personal emails) over,” the Library Board chairman said.
However, opinions garnered from other attorneys, Deters said, in particular from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI), and the “Trustee Essentials: A Handbook for Wisconsin Public Library Trustees” published by the DPI, the word “staff” is defined as paid employees, not volunteer members of the Library Board.

So... it
looks like the board wanted an outside lawyer because 1) the city attorney wanted board members to turn over all their private email as part of an open records request, as "staff" are required to by law, but 2) the State handbook for public board trustees defines "staff" as paid employees, and library board members aren't paid employees.

And rather than give the city attorney the chance to explain herself to the board, or let the board work out the legalities involved, Owen secures a leaked memo and makes hay out of it?

Let's put it this way: yadda yadda yadda.



PaulyW said...

The WDPI.....the trusted source for all things liberal. I think if they volunteer for the library board they are still part of government and should have to turn over the e-mails...

John Foust said...

Who selects the library board members? If they're appointed by your Mayor and Council, they are subject to open records requests when it comes to official business.

Mpeterson said...

Pauly, don't you think the actual LAW should matter?

Anonymous said...

When did LAW ever come into this? If all of you liberals would just go away we could get on with the pitch forks and torches and burn us a few witches with the books. That's all West Bend needs is a good inquisition! Don't worry we'll take good care of the kiddies, they'll know just what we tell them.

wbman said...

John Foust is correct. I've handled open records requests for more than 20 years. There's no question that the library board is a quasi-governmental body whose emails are subject to disclosure. There's no definition in state law as to what a quasi-governmental body is; it's decided on a case-by-case basis. Plan commissions and zoning appeal boards have already been so defined, so the intent of the law is pretty clear. Any email pertaining to the body's business is subject to disclosure, whether on a government or personal email account. These are not "personal emails" when members of the board are discussing board business. Barb Deters is shopping for opinions from entities that don't understand the open records law.

Mpeterson said...

The legal question seems to be about what 'staff' means because the law requires 'staff' to turn over their documents. As I noted elsewhere, the State's Trustee handbook defines board members as not-staff. QED.

If this is to be decided on a case by case basis, and the city attorney's view seems not to be in accord with the definitions provided in official documentation, maybe another set of eyes on the question might be useful.

wbman said...

Under state law, the Public Records Board, part of the Department of Administration, is charged with formulating open records policy for state agencies and advising local ones, and they do it for free with a simple phone call to 608-266-2770. DPI isn't a reliable source for open records policy any more than DOT would be if the issue was records of a highway commission.

I'd like to know who the "other attorneys" are that Deters consulted with.

Anonymous said...

Mark, you ought to do another update based on the outcome of this little "controversy" with the new information that appeared in the Daily News, for the benefit of your out-of-town guests.

You certainly called this one right - I mean, Owen Robinson starts screaming "!!!Red Alert!!!" (Library Board Members Gone Wild!!) - and then Mark Behlling chimes in too. All because of some Board members wanting a second legal opinion at a nomimal cost ($250) - as it was, the 2nd opinion didn't cost anything. Also, the City is not naming whoever leaked the legal communication.

I have seen references to "Copiergate" in Madison - was this another instance where someone was made into a "tool"?

"And of course, there's the greatest miscarriage of reporting in recent Wisconsin political history: Owen's pimping of the "Copiergate" story (in which he got spun like a top by his GOP friends)."