I operate a Milwaukee-based research firm and such requests are a key part of our standard operation procedure. In 2009 I submitted a request to Walker’s administration seeking things like e-mail, calendar and reimbursement records. That request was made in June of 2009 and was not fully complied with until March of 2010. And that happened only after a reporter inquired about the long delay in processing my request. In addition to that unusual delay, it also cost hundreds of dollars. Contrast that treatment with the extensive request submitted by Walker’s allies at CRG. Their extensive request included sensitive data but it still was completed in less than a month and it was done for free.And do I need to mention the secret router system he had Tim Russell set up in the executive's suite in order to avoid open record requests altogether?
There have certainly been other records requests that have been frustrated by Walker administration obstacles. Earlier this year his administration even obstructed the request of Milwaukee County Supervisor John Weishan. Supervisor Weishan requested computer records of the Walker administration after it was revealed that some may have been engaged in campaigning for Walker on county time and with county resources. The Walker administration tried to charge the supervisor thousands of dollars simply for performing his oversight duties as an elected official of the Milwaukee County Board. In fact this dispute has not been fully settled and Weishan has threatened filing a lawsuit to obtain the requested records.
In 2004 Walker’s challenger for Milwaukee County executive, David Riemer, submitted an open records request to the administration. The administration stalled that request and then didn’t even provide the exact records for which Riemer had originally asked. As a result, Riemer eventually filed an open records complaint with the Wisconsin Department of Justice. An assistant attorney general later sent a letter scolding Walker about the unfortunate incident. In it she described that the Walker administration’s actions represented “a case of how government officials ought not to do business.” She went on to declare that “nobody honored to serve in public office ought to manipulate public records in this fashion.”
Continuing to live up to his nickname of Little Walker, the current county executive, Chris Abele, is also playing games with open records requests. This is evidenced by the way he's been jerking around Lisa Kaiser of the Shepherd Express and one of the few remaining investigative journalists in the state, much less Milwaukee:
Funny—when I’d file open records requests with Milwaukee County to look into the communications of the Walker administration, the county always provided them for no cost.It is blatantly obvious that there is something in those emails that Abele really, really doesn't want anyone to see. Why else would he suddenly put such a high charge to just locating the information. It's also scary if one thinks how much he might try to charge for actually releasing the requested information. If Abele's not careful, he'll be showing how concerned he is about the taxpayers by making them pay for defending him for violating open record request laws, just like his good friend Walker has repeatedly done.
In fact, just a few weeks ago, the county mailed me a disc with more than 2,000 pages of documents sent to and from Walker’s campaign and county emails. Not a penny was charged. Not even for postage.
But suddenly the price of responding to open records requests has jumped.
Perhaps it’s because they concern Count Executive Chris Abele, his spokesman, Brendan Conway, and his favorite county supervisor, Deanna Alexander.
I’ve been informed that the Shepherd will be charged almost $1,000 just to locate the Abele-related records. The cost of copying them is extra.
My requests were pretty simple, too. I just wanted to see all of the
There should be quite a few of them. I’ve seen snippets of emails that Abele and Alexander have sent to Sanfelippo, Sykes and Co., and Conway, allegedly Abele’s spokesman, also wrote a press release for Alexander, allegedly a member of the board of supervisors, regarding “her” proposal for a county audit.
(See the always excellent Capper and Cory Liebmann for more about Abele's emails.)
In fact, Alexander even bcc’ed Sanfelippo, Sykes, Conway and Co. on an email she sent to me regarding her grandstanding statement on the county’s medical examiner’s testimony during the Derek Williams inquest. Who knows what other county matters she's sending on to the right-wing gasbag machine.
How insecure—or devious—can you get?
So while it may turn up a multitude of records, it sounds like an easy search to me. In fact, I could probably do it myself if I had access to their taxpayer-funded computers.
But apparently Abele wants to charge $1,000 to cough up records that should be available to anyone who asks.
He is, after all, a public servant.
He’s not the king.
And if he wanted to show that his administration doesn’t respond to reporters’ open records requests in a politically biased manner, he’d be consistent and release these documents for free.
The question is what is he trying to keep from being exposed to the light of day? Is it the doing county business through his private email? Is it the way he's been using Aaron Rodriguez as a ghost writer for his propaganda? Or is it something more sinister, more unethical and possibly illegal?
Methinks it might have something to do with Alexander. The way she's including people like Abele, Conway, Sykes, Belling, Rodriguez and others that shouldn't really be involved in official emails from a county supervisor.
All this makes it seem like we are starting to edge in illegal politicking and yet another caucus style scandal.
Abele might not be a big one for transparency, but he's making it abundantly clear he's not fit to hold someone's lunch money, much less be given even more power as county executive.