Two Town of Kendall residents have filed a lawsuit against the three members of the town board accusing the town of violations of the state Open Records law.
Don and Colleen Schultz filed a writ of mandamus in Lafayette County Circuit Court alleging that the town violated state law by refusing to allow the Schultzes to see financial reports and unapproved town board meeting minutes dating back to June.
The lawsuit lists as defendants town chairman Micah Bahr and Sups. Jackie Steffes and Don Christensen. It accuses them of violating the state Open Records Law and possibly the Code of Ethics for Public Officials and Employees, which is in state law.
A status conference on the lawsuit is scheduled for Dec. 23 at 1:30 p.m.
The lawsuit, filed Nov. 29, alleges that Don Schultz sought to see a copy of the unapproved minutes from the board’s May meeting and the town’s financial report before the board’s June 10 meeting, but Steffes refused to allow Schultz to see them.
The lawsuit claims that Colleen Schultz made a presentation about the Open Records law at the board’s Aug. 12 meeting, and then filed a written request to see the minutes, but Bahr claimed that unapproved meeting minutes do not constitute a public record. The town has not responded to two written requests and “several” other occasions from the Schultzes, while Bahr refused access to the records on one written request, according to the lawsuit filing.
The lawsuit alleges that Bahr told the Schultzes that the town attorney said the town was “doing the right thing” in denying access to unapproved minutes. Bahr also threatened to sue the Schultzes over letters to the editor in local newspapers, according to the lawsuit filing.
Chapter 19.31 of Wisconsin statutes states that “it is declared to be the public policy of this state that all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those officers and employees who represent them.” The statute further requires access to government records to have “a presumption of complete public access, consistent with the conduct of governmental business. The denial of public access generally is contrary to the public interest, and only in an exceptional case may access be denied.”
The statute defines a public record as “any material on which written, drawn, printed, spoken, visual or electromagnetic information is recorded or preserved, regardless of physical form or characteristics, which has been created or is being kept by an authority. “Record” includes, but is not limited to, handwritten, typed or printed pages, maps, charts, photographs, films, recordings, tapes (including computer tapes), computer printouts and optical disks. ‘Record’ does not include drafts, notes, preliminary computations and like materials prepared for the originator’s personal use or prepared by the originator in the name of a person for whom the originator is working.”
Chapter 19.36 of state statutes lists the exceptions to the Open Records Law, which include employee personnel records, the identities of final candidates for government positions upon their requests, and certain law enforcement records including the identities of law enforcement informants.
The Schultz lawsuit seeks the “immediate release for inspection and copying of unapproved minutes, financial reports and documents at the beginning of each future Town of Kendall board meeting, prior to approval.” The lawsuit also seeks reimbursement of the Schultzes’ court and legal costs, and for the board to be “censured” for violating the state Open Records law.