While Baldauff disputed some of the report’s claims, she stated that the Evers team follows state public
records law and Department of Justice guidance, “not executive orders issued by prior administrations.”
Yet the orders issued by Walker, who was by no means perfect when it came to open government, are important precisely because they go beyond what the law requires and the attorney general advises. A governor “committed to openness and transparency” should not be ending initiatives that improve compliance.
Rather, Evers should be going further to promote government transparency. For starters, he could check out the “Legislative Wish List” that appears on the council’s website. Yes, these are things that involve legislative action, but the governor could work to make them happen.
One smart change would be to require public bodies who go into closed session to make a recording that can be checked by a judge if suspicions arise that the discussion went beyond what the law allows. And Wisconsin should definitely end the ability of legislators, alone among state and local officials, to destroy records at will.
In fact, making a conspicuous commitment to expanding open government is one of the simplest and surest ways for politicians to score points with the people they represent. Gov. Evers, the ball’s in your court.
This administration has taken a big step back in terms of transparency. It would be great to see them reverse that trend.
As for Lueders’ proposal about recording closed sessions… absolutely. In particular, local boards go into closed sessions all the time. The law is very restrictive about when that is allowed, but once they go into closed session, they can talk about whatever they want. And some boards are militant about also making sure that board members don’t reveal what was discussed in closed session. There is no way for the public to ensure that the government bodies aren’t conducting the public’s business in secret. Recording the sessions would allow for the appropriate authorities to investigate if a complaint is levied.
If closed session is about employee discipline or expend resources to investigate a staff issue, that can be difficult to release without harm to reputation, before all facts may be known.
I remember an officer investigation that would have been disastrous had closed session to allow us to investigate been released before investigation was completed.
The proposal is that all closed sessions would be at least audio if not video recorded. The recording would remain secret. However, if there was a question about what happened, a judge could review it in camera.
If you don’t record, then you’re just left with anecdotes about what happened.