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Public Records Request of 6.26.18 (Open Government)

The Whitewater Common Council agenda packet of 6.19.18 promised a “report and update on grocery store recruitment,” but that session was only partially recorded, with no video or audio record of the grocery presentation.  In response, I submitted a public records request of 6.26.18, about three topics:

1. Any audio or video recording of the 6.19.18 Common Council session, including a recording of only part of the full session.

2. Records created after 5.15.18 concerning grocery store recruitment under the control of the Community Development Authority or City of Whitewater, including – but not limited to – any Community Development Authority presentation on grocery store recruitment prepared or delivered after 5.15.18.

3. Records concerning stated technical difficulties in the broadcast or rebroadcast of the 6.19.18 Common Council session, including – but not limited to – descriptions and explanations of those stated technical difficulties, and any remedial plan regarding those stated difficulties.

Appearing immediately below are the results of that public records request. This post offers a few remarks on meetings & open government, and then two notes on my compilation of these records. Tomorrow’s post will address the substance of the slides for the unrecorded, previously unpublished 6.19.18 grocery store presentation.

Records:

Remarks:

   A Mechanical Solution.   In these records, there’s mention of needing to review ‘policies and procedures.’  That suggests human error to my mind, but one cannot be sure.  In any event, a simple recording device, devoted to audio recording, might easily preserve at least the full spoken content of a meeting’s discussion, in the event that videographers made a mistake with more complicated equipment.

People will, of course, make technical or procedural mistakes; a backup device unconnected to the main equipment, with a well-visible light to indicate it’s functioning properly, might avoid some of these problems.

  Uncommunicative.  Whitewater Community Development Authority Executive Director Dave Carlson presented a CDA update on 5.15.18, but that presentation still left three principal questions unanswered, one of which was the status of grocery recruitment.  See Common Council Meeting 05/15/18 (presentation beginning at 9:10, with questions at 22:40).

Carlson didn’t have ready answers to key questions in May, including answers about grocery recruitment, but the council session a month later in June offered him the opportunity to answer at least one of them.  One might have expected that, if the CDA knew that the June meeting was not recorded, they might have wanted to put Carlson’s presentation online (to let the community see the work of the Community Development Authority).  To my knowledge, no one from the municipal government did so.  (Readers can find the presentation online today, embedded above at this website.)

  The Best Record is a Recording.  Carlson’s presentation is embedded above, along with other records, but about how he answered questions or explained these several slides, there’s no permanent record at all.   Press Failure.  The Daily Union‘s freelancer reported on the meeting, but here’s all he wrote about a grocery:

Heard Community Development Authority director Dave Carlson give an update on the city’s efforts to attract a new grocery store to the city.

Although this is a key issue for many in the city, and the freelancer must have known as much, he might as well have simply copied the session’s agenda item.  That’s not reporting; it’s either negligence or deliberate avoidance of a local concern (perhaps to keep the presentation from becoming more widely discussed).

  Open Government’s Hard Time.  Statewide and in nearby cities, principles of open government are having a rough reception.  In Milton, that school district has made more than one mistake of open government, operating in unnecessary secrecy and with unnecessary emotion.  If there’s ever been a place that’s gone wrong in this regard, in understanding and practice, it’s the Milton School District.  See Sunshine Week 2018 (The Bad Example Nearby) and A Bit More on Examples.

(Whether they are receiving poor legal advice, are receiving legal advice poorly communicated, or suffer from board members either ignorant or stubborn, one can’t be certain.)

Of this one can be certain: Milton is a bad example for nearby communities.

In Whitewater, there were in 2010 some few – officeholders and their friends – in opposition to open government; there were some who fought to keep meetings unrecorded and offline.

Whitewater made the right decision eight years ago; we are far better off in this regard than other communities.   Success comes from the routine application, again and again, of openness and transparency.

Part of open government is about recording meetings, but another part is about the desire to publish whatever information one has – including presentations – without being asked when one’s recording does regrettably fail.

Notes:

  • I’ve omitted some emails from these records that concern a discussion of a new municipal website or internal queries for the online video of the 6.19.18 session.  Those communications fall peripherally within the scope of the request.
  • These records are reproduced in chronological order, where I have been able to determine their order. Some email headers are missing.  For this purpose that absence does not seem critical.  I’ve replied to the City of Whitewater that additional searching, for email headers, is not necessary.

Tomorrow: The Slides for the 6.19.18 Grocery Store Presentation.

2 comments for “Public Records Request of 6.26.18 (Open Government)

  1. J
    07/02/2018 at 12:16 PM

    The big takeaway is to publish what you can even if the video goes south. The state has gone in a different direction. More like closed government. It’s really indicative of where we are that 2010 was a breakthrough moment. A lot has changed since 2010. That might have been around the last year for that kind of breakthrough. Wisconsin does not seem like an open government state anymore. Not even close. It’s 180 degrees from where we were 8-10 years ago.

    • JOHN ADAMS
      07/02/2018 at 3:29 PM

      These ten years have transformed the state. That transformation has been unfortunate generally, and sometimes particularly tragic. We can say however that few who’ve pushed for these changes, and only slightly more who have tolerated them, look the better for it.