Your Right to Know: Official calendars are a basic public record

Jason Smathers

It’s a pretty simple question for a public official: “What exactly do you do with your time?”

Sometimes, the best way to answer that question is to obtain the official’s calendar, through the state’s open records law. In my work as a reporter, I’ve done this for the state treasurer and his staff, who work for an office with few official duties. I’ve also used the monthly calendars of Gov. Scott Walker to plot his travel and track his day-to-day meetings. So when I wanted a better understanding of how the duties of Sheboygan Mayor Mike Vandersteen and Chief Administrative Officer Jim Amodeo overlap, I asked to see their calendars. Amodeo’s response was simply, “Oh, OK.”

Vandersteen’s response was more terse. Continue Reading

Your Right to Know: Cops in shootings should be promptly named

Christa Westerberg

Following the Aug. 9 police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, citizens and the public demanded to know the involved officer’s name. The Ferguson Police Department stirred national attention, and some outrage, by waiting six days to reveal it: Officer Darren Wilson. Wisconsin has Ferguson beat. On April 30, 2014, a Milwaukee police officer shot Dontre Hamilton 14 times, killing him. Continue Reading

How the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism investigated prison-abuse allegations

The state Department of Corrections released hundreds of pages of records but denied access to other materials, including videos and internal complaints.

The DOC, citing security reasons, denied the Center’s requests to interview inmates and take photographs in the segregation unit at Waupun, or videotape an inmate at another facility. It redacted from the released records references to inmate injuries and the physical or mental health treatment they received. It categorically denied access to formal complaints filed by inmates against guards, although some released records do convey the inmates’ perspective. And it denied access to video recordings to various incidents, saying this would compromise security. Continue Reading