MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Tony Evers refused to release one day’s worth of emails as requested under Wisconsin’s open records law, a move that advocacy groups say is an illegal interpretation of the law.
WITI-TV reported that it initially made a request under the open records law for just over four weeks of emails between the Democratic governor and his chief of staff, Maggie Gau. When Evers’ assistant legal counsel, Erin Deeley, denied the request, the TV station narrowed it to one week. When that was rejected, it narrowed the request to just one day.
That, too, was rejected.
Deeley told the station that requests for all emails over a specific time frame, no matter how short, will be denied. Requests won’t be fulfilled unless they include search terms or wording that can be turned into search terms, Deeley added. Evers’ office on Monday provided copies of two records requests from 2011 and 2016 that former Republican Gov. Scott Walker rejected. Walker’s administration cited the same criteria as Evers that search terms, not just a time frame of emails, needed to be provided for a request to be fulfilled.
Open records advocates disagree.
“I don’t think (this denial) is a legal interpretation of our open records law,” said Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council.
April Barker, an open records attorney, said the denial is “part of a concerted effort, unfortunately, to come up with ways to limit public access.” She agreed with Lueders that Evers’ legal interpretation in this case violates the law.
Making only selective portions of the emails available based on search terms violates the law’s presumption that the records are public, Lueders said.
When asked at a recent news conference why his office was denying the request for one day’s worth of emails, Evers said: “I have no idea.” After being given details of the information requested, he said, “That’ll be pretty, pretty boring. … If I do one email a day, that’s an extraordinary day.”
On Monday, he walked by reporters following a Veterans Day celebration without taking questions.
His attorney, Deeley, said the records request rejection was justified.
“Wisconsin taxpayers should not be asked to pay the salary of a state employee to work exclusively on an insufficiently specific request for weeks, to the detriment of all other requests, requesters, and job responsibilities,” Deeley said.
But Barker said Evers was “wasting the time and resources of government employees and the public by looking for reasons to justify denying access.”