[Madison, WI] – In case you missed it, Fox 6 News revealed on Sunday that Gov. Tony Evers’ office is shielding the public from access to Gov. Tony Evers’ emails.
“It’s clear that Gov. Evers has no interest in upholding Wisconsin’s open records laws or his supposed commitment to transparency,” said Mark Jefferson, Executive Director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin. “In addition to rolling back Walker-era reforms that ensured state government was more transparent, Gov. Evers is also refusing to comply with open records law. Gov. Evers should be held accountable for his refusal to comply with the law and Wisconsinites should be concerned that Evers is trying to hide what he is—or isn’t—doing from the public.”
Denied: Staff shields Governor Tony Evers’ emails from public access
Fox 6 News
Amanda St. Hilaire
November 10, 2019
Governor Tony Evers’ office is denying open records requests for his emails. The governor’s attorney says the decision saves taxpayer resources; transparency advocates say they’re worried about the erosion of the public’s right to know.
“If you want to see what government is up to, you have to see the emails that they are sending,” Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council President Bill Lueders said. “I don’t think [this denial] is a legal interpretation of our open records law.”
After nearly two months of trying to obtain the public records, FOX6 took the request straight to Governor Evers.
In September, the FOX6 Investigators requested just over four weeks of emails to and from Governor Tony Evers and his chief of staff, Maggie Gau. Assistant legal counsel Erin Deeley denied the request. FOX6 narrowed the request to emails from one week; Deeley sent another denial letter.
Finally, the FOX6 Investigators asked for just Governor Evers’ emails from just one day.
“It’s part of a concerted effort, unfortunately, to come up with ways to limit public access,” Schott, Bublitz & Engel open records attorney April Barker said.
FOX6 showed Barker and Lueders correspondence from the Governor’s Office. They said the Governor’s Office’s legal interpretation violates the spirit, and perhaps the letter, of Wisconsin’s open records law.
“I’ve reviewed your request to the Governor’s Office and the responses you have received,” Lueders said. “It looks to me like the office is trying to parse the language of the law in order to not give you records. What it should be doing is to try to find some reason to say yes to your request.”
In several conversations, Evers’ staff and state department legal counsel misquoted the law as saying a request needs a “reasonable limitation as to subject matter and length of time.” The confusion appears to come from the Department of Justice Public Records Law Compliance Guide, which uses the phrase “subject matter and length of time,” referencing a 1997 court ruling that a request for tape and transcripts of three hours of 911 calls on 60 channels is not reasonably specific.
FOX6 informed the Governor’s Office it was running a story about the refusal to release Evers’ emails from a one-day time frame. Evers’ office asked for clarification about the story, but did not provide a statement or any other kind of response.
After the deadline for response passed, FOX6 reporter Amanda St. Hilaire went to a press conference about healthcare to ask Governor Evers about his emails.
Amanda St. Hilaire: “Governor, you’ve said that you are committed to transparency, so why is your office denying our request for one day’s worth of your emails?”
Governor Evers: “When? No, I have no idea.”
St. Hilaire: “No one’s told you?
FOX6 explained the request.
Evers: “Oh, that’ll be pretty, pretty boring I’ll tell ya. If I do one email a day, that’s an extraordinary day. So, we’ll work on that.”
St. Hilaire: “So you think the public should be able to see one day’s worth of your emails?”
Evers: “Yeah. It’s pretty boring. I mean, I can’t remember sending an email all week.”
The FOX6 Investigators cannot verify Evers’ claim because minutes after the press conference, Evers’ deputy chief of staff Melissa Baldauff said the line of questioning was in “poor form,” and there were no plans to grant the request for the governor’s emails.
FOX6 later sent an email to Baldauff and assistant legal counsel Erin Deeley asking if the Governor’s Office would follow through on the governor’s statement that the public should be able to see one day’s worth of his emails.
Deeley responded one week later. Despite the governor’s public statements, his office continues to refuse to release his emails from one day.