For the 15th consecutive year, the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council is presenting its Openness in Government Awards, or Opees, recognizing outstanding achievement in the cause of transparency. Several of this years’ awards are related to the COVID-19 pandemic that has forced wholesale changes in how government officials conduct the public’s business. All are predicated on upholding the public’s right to know.
Wisconsin lawmakers will soon begin redrawing congressional and state voting boundaries, in accordance with the latest Census. It’s a good time to reflect on how that process has played out before — and for the public to demand greater transparency this time around.
To keep each other safe, we’ve been asked to add barriers — distance and masks — to our face-to-face interaction. We also have videoconferencing to help overcome those barriers.
Yet to this day, Republican leaders in the state Assembly are holding meetings without requiring attendees to wear masks or offering a video option for those who don’t feel safe attending.
Early on in the pandemic, the Wisconsin Department of Justice laid out guidance for making sure virtual meetings comply with the state’s Open Meetings Law. There are some public bodies who do a phenomenal job, but there’s still much more that can and should be done.
Last January, a person involved in local emergency management asked the Office of Open Government whether emergency preparedness coalitions run by the Wisconsin DHS are subject to the state’s open meetings and open records laws. The answer is yes — but arriving at this answer took nearly a year, which should not have happened.
In late October, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections finally disclosed the number of COVID-19 deaths among people incarcerated in state prisons. But this disclosure came only after months of delays and cover ups — and the DOC is still trying to hide information about the epidemic.
The state’s refusal to identify specific schools with COVID-19 cases suggests a pernicious problem: that officials don’t trust parents and students to have easy public access to information that could put schools or administrators in a negative light.
Wisconsinites have a lot to be proud of, but the disparities caused by racist policies are deeply shameful. We cannot hail Wisconsin’s eccentricities while neglecting to confront the racism in our state.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that many of our jobs can be done digitally and remotely. The same thing could — and should — be done with records maintained by state and local governments.
Wisconsin citizens are getting the “You can’t handle the truth” treatment from some officials over information related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The police killings of George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks and Breonna Taylor, among others, as well as video footage of police using excessive force in dealing with protesters, have underscored the need for changes in policing, including greater access to disciplinary records.
It is time to break down some of the barriers that prevent the public from getting a full and true picture of how police perform — sometimes laudable, sometimes not — and how government agencies respond to allegations of misconduct.
Although vilified in their day, participants in Milwaukee’s 1960s civil rights movement, including Roberto Hernandez and Father James Groppi, are now celebrated by the city.