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SCOWI: Government Can’t Hide Behind Redacting Costs

My sincere snark-filled apologies to Democratic lawmakers like State Senator Jon Erpenbach and State Rep. Mark Pocan who have hid behind redacting costs as a way to get out of open-records requests.  No longer can they try to force a watchdog into bankruptcy because of what they’re afraid of might come forward.

Amazing that it was the Journal Sentinel going against the City of Milwaukee Police Department which will end the party of stonewalling for the two liberal icons of Madison.

Government entities can’t charge the public for time spent deleting confidential information from records, the state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday in a major victory for open government advocates.

The decision settles a dispute between the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper and the Milwaukee Police Department. The newspaper sued the department after the agency charged it thousands of dollars to cover staff time spent redacting information from hundreds of reports the newspaper had requested.

Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Thomas R. Cooper sided with the city, authorizing it to charge the newspaper for all costs of complying with the requests, including time spent on redactions. The Journal Sentinel asked the Supreme Court to take the case directly without a stop at the appeals court level and the high court agreed.

Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson wrote in Wednesday’s ruling that Wisconsin’s open records law allows record custodians to charge for reproducing, photographing, locating and shipping records.

The city contended redactions equate to reproducing and locating records, but Abrahamson wrote that deletions don’t fit into any of those categories.

Don’t believe me?  Maybe the guys at MacIver can fill you in on the details about Erpenbach trying to stonewall and bankrupt them with an insane cost attached to an open records request regarding his office’s emails during the fleeing to Illinois.

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  • More likely, Erpenbach and Pocan will simply claim that since their staffs cannot possibly meet the requirement to redact the information that needs to be redacted and still maintain normal custodial operations, they’ll refuse to honor the next Open Records request.  As that is in the “concurrence” from Justice Roggensack that is actually the operative majority opinion, they’ll likely get away with it.