A Wisconsin open government group filed a complaint Monday against the state’s Public Records Board, saying it improperly approved changes that Gov. Scott Walker’s administration has used to deny requests for text messages and records of visits to the governor’s mansion.
Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, said the group has been “troubled by the broad application” of the board’s action, which included changing the definition of “transitory records.”
“I don’t think it’s clear the board intended to give the Walker administration authority to destroy text messages and a visitor’s log at will,” he said.
The complaint alleges the board didn’t provide sufficient notice of the content of its August meeting and that members didn’t record motions or roll call votes. “They didn’t go about this right,” Lueders said.
Transitory records are deemed to be of such temporary usefulness that they don’t need to be retained for any specific period, according to the filing.
One day after the Aug. 24 board meeting, the rule changes were cited in the denial of an open records request from the Wisconsin State Journal. The newspaper was seeking any texts pertaining to a $500,000 loan that a state agency, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., gave to Building Committee Inc., a struggling construction company run by a Walker donor.
The rule changes also were raised in response to a request from One Wisconsin Now, a liberal group seeking a list of visitors to the governor’s residence. The Department of Administration released a partial list and said other records had been deemed transitory and hadn’t been retained.
The complaint was filed through the Dane County District Attorney’s Office. Prosecutor Ismael Ozanne didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said Monday that the governor’s office willingly complies with open records law and noted that the Public Records Board receives no direction from Walker’s office.
Neither Georgia Thompson, who heads the Public Records Board, nor the Department of Administration immediately responded to phone messages seeking comment. A phone number listed for Building Committee Inc. had been disconnected.
Lueders said that given the scope of their impact, the changes shouldn’t have been made by the Public Records Board. Instead, he said, they should have been handled by the Legislature or through a formal rule change, both of which would involve public comment and debate.
“They need to go back to square one,” he said, “and begin again.”