In my 56 years in the news business, including a 15-year stint as president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, I've witnessed some bizarre attempts by government officials to keep information from the public they're supposed to serve — but the one that's currently dragging on in Racine County clearly takes the cake.
No kidding, there's a circuit court judge there who has ordered court records be kept under wraps and, initially, all hearings be held in secret, on, of all things, an open records suit.
It's a true head-scratcher, but it's anything but funny.
The whole thing started several months ago when Racine's city attorney, Scott Letteney, made a presentation behind closed doors to a number of city officials. Included were slides that showed a number of emails that 16-year city Ald. Sandy Weidner had sent to various people.
Weidner hadn't seen what the slides contained, so asked for copies of them and Letteney refused to give them to her, claiming that they contained confidential information. It apparently didn't occur to the city attorney that the person he supposedly was protecting from release of the slides was the same person who wanted them released.
Remarkably, Judge Eugene Gasiorkiewicz, who was assigned the open records case filed by Ald. Weidner, decided to go along with the city attorney's absurd position. He decided to keep all the court filings secret, demanded closed door hearings and warned all parties in the case not to discuss anything about it in public.
Weidner decided this was nonsense. First of all, she didn't want to keep her emails a secret and wanted the city attorney to make them public. So when she gave a couple of interviews to the press, our secrecy-first Judge Gasiorkiewicz cited her for contempt and levied a fine.
Someone ought to give the powers-that-be in Racine's city attorney's office and the county's courthouse a copy of Wisconsin's open records law. It's obvious that too many believe that since they're in office they don't have to answer to anyone but themselves.
Exactly what kind of emails did the city attorney display on those slides? Did they perhaps contain something about Ald. Weidner when she was running for mayor awhile back?
Doesn't anyone know that those records are public and belong to the people, not the officeholders?
Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.
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