Is that email the town clerk just sent to the town chair a public record? Is the city’s economic development corporation required to respond to open records requests? Is a local government required to post a public records policy? Where can you begin to search the answers to these and other Public Records Law questions? Try starting with two new online resources that were updated in September 2012.
The Local Government Center updated its Public Records Law Fact Sheet number 7 and it is available online. The 17 page overview introduces Public Records Law (often also referred to as “Open Records Law”) to local officials or citizens, with enough detail to serve as a ready reference guide for any public official or employee. The answers to the opening questions, above, can be found in the fact sheet.
Another resource has also been recently updated: Public Records Law Compliance Outline from Wisconsin Attorney General’s office. Longer than the LGC fact sheet, it covers in outline form many aspects of the Public Records Law, with references to court and Attorney General Opinions, many of which are hyperlinked to the full text opinion. It also contains the full text of the Public Records statute.
The current public records law has been on the books for over three decades. However, as journalist Bill Lueders recently wrote, “[I]in truth, it never stops changing. Amendments are passed, practices change, and court rulings redefine the law’s interpretation.” Consider that in 1982 when the current Public Records statute went on the books the hottest information device was the VCR, email was not in general public use and windows were the places to hang curtains. Thus the need for updates to the Local Government Center’s Public Records Law Factsheet and the Wisconsin Justice Department’s Compliance Outline.
Other resources online can be found at the Wisconsin Justice Department web site, which includes press releases, memos, formal and informal opinions of the attorney general and some educational materials. The League Of Wisconsin Municipalities web site has online articles and FAQ’s authored by League attorneys regarding the Public Records Law. Information is also available at the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council web site.