Thursday, September 29th, 2016

Schimel got it wrong again on open government

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Publication:Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date:Jul 19, 2012; Section:Opinion; Page Number:6A

Schimel got it wrong again on open government

BID decision latest in growing list of missteps by district attorney

I’m told that some people downtown did not understand what I meant when I referred to Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel as “gelded” in last Thursday’s Waukesha Freeman. I was referring to the practice of removing the part of a male animal’s anatomy responsible for producing testosterone in order to make the animal more docile.

Docility when it comes to government openness is becoming the hallmark of Schimel’s tenure in office. Unfortunately the recent decision to not charge Business Improvement District President Norm Bruce with violating the state’s Open Records Law is just another example.

I previously referred another case to Schimel regarding Alderman Roger Patton. In response to an open records request I sent to him, Patton told me he deletes his emails.

Then there was the curious case of former Alderman Peggy Bull, who was recalled. The signatures of a circulator of the petitions to recall her were highly questionable. Despite the clear difference in appearance of signatures allegedly by the same person, Schimel took no action regarding the suspect Bull petition signatures or Patton’s destruction of public records.

Even WISN talk-radio host and fellow Waukesha Freeman columnist Mark Belling has had his frustrations with Schimel. The Menomonee Falls School Board allegedly reached a consensus via email on the teachers’ contract prior to the meeting where the issue was to be discussed. The School Board also did not give a copy of the tentative agreement with the union to Belling prior to the meeting. Schimel did nothing in either case.

Now we have the Bruce case. Back in February, I sent an inquiry to Mayor Jeff Scrima regarding a $10,000 check that was funneled from his New Day Fund through the BID to a vendor for fiberglass guitars for the GuitarTown project. Scrima refused to answer my questions.

Open records requests are an important way for the public to learn about matters that could directly affect them and their community. Just in the last few months, open records requests by me uncovered the effort by the Waukesha Police Department to stack the audience at a Common Council meeting, and of the mayor’s desire to use funds from the GuitarTown project to “rebrand” the city.

Following Scrima’s refusal to answer my questions, I sent out public records requests to all of the officers of the BID, including Bruce, asking for emails pertaining to the GuitarTown project. Most of the BID officers complied right away. Both Lynn Gaffey of Almont Gallery and Kerry Mackay of the Steaming Cup even sent the requested emails to me one at a time to make sure I received them.

Bruce, on the other hand, took disks over to a copy place and had the emails printed, even though I requested the emails in an electronic format. Bruce told the copy place to charge $.25 per page rather than the normal amount. He then tried to stick me with the inflated bill.

The case was only resolved when I informed him that my attorney, government affairs attorney Mike Maistelman, and I were giving him a deadline to comply. Bruce turned over the records without charge on March 26, well over a month after I requested them.

When I found out that Bruce had instructed the copy place to inflate the bill, I referred the matter to Schimel. It was Schimel’s own investigator who determined that the files were given to the copy place in the electric format I requested and that there was no need to even make photocopies.

So despite the results of his staff’s investigation of the matter, Schimel decided that no punishment was appropriate because Bruce should not be held to the same standard as public officials who are paid. It’s a bizarre standard, and it’s even more confusing because Schimel does not hold paid public officials accountable, either.

The great irony in all this is that it took Schimel more time to investigate the matter and decide to do nothing than it did for Bruce to eventually comply with my open records request,

It took Schimel three pages to basically say he was giving Bruce a pass because Bruce is a nice guy. My readers are mostly nice people, too. They deserve a district attorney that takes openness in government seriously.

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at http://www.wigderson.com and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

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