Gov. Walker Challenged on Open-Records Denial

     MADISON, Wis. (CN) – In denying an open-records request, Wisconsin told the media that public officials need secrecy to effectively draft a budget, a new lawsuit alleges.
     The May 27 complaint by Madison-based liberal magazine The Progressive is the second in as many weeks over records related to Gov. Scott Walker’s quashed proposal in the 2015-17 budget to edit the state university system’s mission statement.
     Walker’s changes would have removed the phrase “the search for truth” and the “Wisconsin Idea” of serving people beyond campus from the University of Wisconsin System’s mission statement. It would also have added a clause making the UW System responsible for meeting “the state’s workforce needs.”
     It was the Center for Media and Democracy, which filed a similar suit on May 19, that brought the mission-statement proposal to light back in February.
     The governor quickly chalked the changes up to a “drafting error” and denied the center’s request for records on Walker’s budget communications on May 8, the center’s complaint alleged.
     Katy Lounsbury, an attorney married to Progressive columnist Jud Lounsbury, says she filed a request for such records back in February as well.
     As it told the center, Wisconsin purportedly cited attorney-client privilege and the deliberative process exception in rejecting Lounsbury’s request.
     “Making these internal discussions just as open to disclosure as the final version would inhibit the free exchange of ideas, opinions, proposals and recommendations among those deciding what to include in the final legislation,” the Department of Administration’s response read, according to the complaint.
     The Progressive and the Lounsburys say no such privilege exists under state law, and is only applied when a state needs to protect specific public-policy concerns.
     Wisconsin’s May 8 letter of denial to Lounsbury allegedly says that the only budget documents the public should legally be allowed to view are the finished product and government press releases..
     “Put simply, defendants’ rationales turn on their heads basic and fundamental principles of open and democratic government,” the complaint states.
     None of the parties immediately responded to a request for comment.
     The Progressive is represented by April Rockstead Barker with Schott, Bublitz & Engel SC.

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