Even After Lawsuit Victory, Wisconsin Paper Claims Stonewalling by State Agency

By: E&P Staff For the last month, the bi-weekly Lakeland Times of Minocqua, Wis., has been trying to obtain the names of unionized employees in the state's Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The paper has even gone so far as to file an open records suit, which was upheld by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

However, the rulings seem to have had no effect, and the paper is still waiting for names. Lakeland Times Publisher Gregg Walker filed the open records Aug. 6 and is still waiting for a response.

"Here we have the state Supreme Court saying the DNR cannot withhold the names of these public employees, and the DNR just goes on about its business as if the Supreme Court did not exist," Walker told reporter Richard Moore. "They are not only ignoring the newspaper, not only ignoring the courts, but they are breaking the law, both by not releasing the names and by ignoring our new open records request."

Wisconsin's open records law "requires agencies to respond to open records requests 'as soon as practicable and without delay,'" according to Moore, who wrote that the traditional time period is 10 working days.

Walker's Aug. 6 letter requested all payroll records for all DNR staff, union and non-union, working in its Hayward, Woodruff, Rhinelander, Park Falls, Spooner, Tomahawk and Madison offices.

DNR has withheld the names of union employees, citing a provision in collective bargaining agreements with the state that prohibited the disclosure to the press of the names of union employees.

However, in July, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled 6-1 in favor of the Lakeland Times. In that case, attorneys for the paper argued that "a collective bargaining agreement between the state and a public employee union to trump the state's open records' laws would be an absolute contradiction of Wisconsin's long-held presumption of openness in government," according to the Times. As of Aug. 29, Walker is still waiting for that ruling to take effect.

"Citizens have a right to know who is working for their government, and they have a right to know how much we are paying those employees," Walker told the paper. "That's the most basic employment information there is. Without access to it, there is no way to hold these employees accountable."


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