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March 13-19 is Sunshine Week. This national initiative commemorates the transparency and citizen oversight so essential to our democratic system of government. Compliance with our state Open Meetings Law and Public Records Law is an essential duty of all Wisconsin government agencies, officials, and employees.
As Wisconsin’s chief law enforcement officer, I bear special statutory responsibility for interpreting and providing advice about our Open Meetings Law and Public Records Law. I have committed the Department of Justice to educate government personnel and members of the public about these important laws, and to facilitate compliance with their requirements.
In these challenging fiscal times, I recognize that many other official responsibilities compete for available staff time and other government resources. Those challenges do not excuse failure to comply with our Open Meetings Law and Public Records Law. To facilitate efficient compliance with these laws, however, I offer the following resources.
Many Open Meetings Law and Public Records Law reference materials are posted on the Department of Justice website, www.doj.state.wi.us, for on-demand access 24-7. Anyone may view, print, or download these resources free of charge. Look for the brown “Open Meetings & Public Records” box on our home page to find:
Each fall, our Department of Justice open meetings and public records experts speak at free seminars around the state to promote understanding of the Open Meetings Law and Public Records Law. In 2010, we offered live seminars in Wausau, Milwaukee, and Madison. We also offered a videoconference seminar with viewing sites in Rice Lake, Racine, La Crosse, and Green Bay. Over 400 people attended our 2010 seminars, with another 900 people attending specialized training programs for groups ranging from the Municipal Electric Utilities of Wisconsin to the International Association of Arson Investigators (Wisconsin Chapter). Watch your local media sources later this year for information about our fall 2011 seminars.
Year round, Department of Justice experts answer questions and provide information about the Open Meetings Law and Public Records Law. Anyone with questions about these laws may call (608) 266-3952, leave a message, and receive a return call from one of our open meetings or public records experts. Written inquiries, including copies of relevant correspondence and materials, also may be directed to me at Post Office Box 7857, Madison, WI 53707-7857. During the second half of 2010, free of charge, my staff assisted over 300 such callers and 50 such writers. Following are some practical tips, based on recurring inquiries we receive.
For records custodians:
For records requesters:
Sunshine Week celebrates open government. I am proud of our Wisconsin tradition of transparency and citizen oversight, and I am proud of the work done by the Department of Justice to facilitate understanding of and compliance with our Open Meetings Law and Public Records Law.