Wisconsin Will Create Office of Open Government

by | June 2, 2015

By Jason Stein

Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel is creating an Office of Open Government to help the public obtain government records more quickly and consistently.

The Republican attorney general said he wants to ensure that his office is being timely in releasing records such as Department of Justice investigations into shootings by police officers and that the agency is applying state law in a similar manner across the board whenever a member of the public requests government records.

Also, Schimel said he wants to provide consistent and prompt advice to other state and local officials as well as citizens when they have questions about the state's long-standing law requiring that most records about the affairs of government be released to the public upon request.

The same goes for open meetings for official bodies and other state laws related to transparent government, the state's top lawyer said, noting the presumption of openness in Wisconsin law.

"We shouldn't be looking for things we can deny" to the public, Schimel said. "We should be looking for what we must deny."

The Department of Justice isn't adding any new positions, but the attorney general said he was reassigning an attorney in his office to focus exclusively on coordinating the agency's open records and meetings work.

Paul Ferguson, a former prosecutor and public defender in Pennsylvania and Indiana, works at the Wisconsin Department of Justice on appellate issues.

Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, praised the idea, saying that on his initial review it appeared to make sense to assign a lead state attorney to open-government work.

(c)2015 the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel