Like many other people in Wisconsin, I spent some time recently digging into the 27,000 pages of emails released from the John Doe probe into alleged illegal activities by the staff of then-Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker.
I was somewhat surprised to find my name appear.
In June of 2010, amid the hotly contested race for governor, I made an open records request of GOP candidate Walker’s county office. I was looking for information about the new security screening firm named Wackenhut that was recently hired to conduct security at the Milwaukee County courthouse.
What I found in the batch of emails was that Kelly Rindfleisch, Walker’s deputy chief of staff, forwarded my request to Keith Gilkes, Walker’s gubernatorial campaign manager, seeking his counsel on what information should be released to me.
Gilkes replied in an email that he must have thought would never be released to the public. “Just give him a number of what the contract cost,” Gilkes advised. “(J)ust something that fulfills the request without giving him anything.”
I have not had the time to read all 27,000 pages of emails, the equivalent of about 100 books, but I probably don’t need to. It’s clear from this exchange, and others that have been reported, what was going on.
Apparently, many of the hundreds of open records requests being made of Walker’s office were going to the Walker campaign for review. Clearly, these were all public records and the campaign should have had no involvement whatsoever in their review or release.
The open records law is the most powerful tool the people of this state have to hold government officials accountable. As a citizen activist, I use the law frequently. I have seen numerous cases where officials have told the public one thing while saying something else altogether in an email they think will never be made public.
While I do not consider myself a reporter or a journalist, that does not prevent me from using the state’s open records law. In fact, the law is open to anyone and is meant to be used by everyone.
I have been a proud and outspoken supporter of Scott Walker going back to some of his early races for state Assembly. I was one of the leaders of the effort to recall then-County Executive Tom Ament 12 years ago in the infamous “Milwaukee County Pension Scandal.” That effort helped Walker get elected as Milwaukee County executive and eventually propelled him to the governor’s office.
Gov. Walker’s response to the release of these emails is to call them “old news.”
That is not selling with me or many other members of the public. It shouldn’t.
Scott Walker, like him or not, has always been forthcoming in answering questions from the media. I am asking him to answer the many questions raised by some of the more alarming emails in this mountain of electronic documents. I think he owes that much to the people who elected him.
If he did not know about the secret email system, he should say so. If he did not know his staff was consulting his campaign manager on how to fulfill its statutory obligations to the public, he should say that.
We’re all ears.
Your Right to Know is a monthly column distributed by the Freedom of Information Council (www.wisfoic.org), a nonprofit group dedicated to open government. Orville Seymer is a longtime leader of Citizens for Responsible Government, a conservative advocacy group. The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.