Your Right to Know: UW shouldn’t hide finalist names

A provision snuck into the state budget bill by the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee would deal a significant blow to open government in Wisconsin. The provision, part of an omnibus motion of changes affecting the University of Wisconsin System, would exempt universities from the rule in place for all other state agencies regarding the naming of finalists for key positions. No longer would they need to identify the five most qualified applicants, or each applicant if there are fewer than five.

An entrance and guard tower at Fox Lake Correctional Institution.

Wisconsin prison guard fired for harassing inmates

An internal investigation found that DOC Sgt. Thomas J. Lukas engaged in “demeaning and harassing behavior” toward inmates at Fox Lake Correctional Institution, a medium-security prison in Dodge County. This included an email he sent to another guard making a reference to inmate Antron Kent and another inmate that was determined to be “sexual in nature and inappropriate.”

April Barker

Your Right to Know: Openness laws could use an update

Updating Wisconsin’s open records law could help clarify the obligations of public officials with respect to emails and other records that exist in electronic form. But it is critical that any updates be guided by the law’s stated and essential purpose: to provide the greatest possible oversight of the actions of government.

Your Right to Know: Don’t let the UW hide research records

This blanket exemption would spare the UW from needing a good reason to deny access to these records, as current law requires. Instead, universities could categorically spurn inquiries from citizens, media and even lawmakers looking into controversial research, potential threats to public safety, conflicts of interest or how tax dollars are spent.

Julia Hunter

Your Right to Know: State needs to fix drivers records access issue

In 2012, a federal appeals court ruled that the village of Palatine, Illinois, may have violated the act by leaving parking tickets, which included personal information, on the windshields of motorists. Some Wisconsin police departments, instructed by their insurers, began redacting personal information from police reports. No other state — not even Illinois, where the Palatine case occurred — adopted this interpretation.

Jason Smathers

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

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.

Christa Westerberg

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

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.

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

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

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.