NFOIC provides funding for Wisconsin lawsuit

COLUMBIA, Mo. (July 20, 2011) – A Wisconsin village’s abrupt dismissal of its administrator, still unexplained to the public two months since the action was taken in a closed-door meeting of the Village Board and a month since the administrator died of a heart attack, is the focus of a Knight FOI Fund grant announced Wednesday by the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC).

The NFOIC announced the grant in support of The Journal Times newspaper of Racine, WI, which brought a lawsuit against the Village of Mount Pleasant on June 15. The newspaper’s lawsuit, in Racine County Circuit Court, contends that Village officials violated the state's open government laws by their manner of noticing and convening a hastily-called executive session during a May 9 meeting of the Village Board, and in denying the newspaper a copy of a letter that presumably prompted the sudden dismissal of the former Village Administrator Mike Andreason.

Christa Westerberg, a Madison-based attorney representing the newspaper, said that while Wisconsin law permits the withholding of records related to personnel issues in some instances, the city effectively waived any potential exemption it could legally claim by not stating a specific reason for its refusal to disclose the requested record. Indeed, Village officials’ first two written responses to Journal Times reporter Mike Moore’s request for the letter, which was mentioned on the agenda item, cited no specific statute section at all: One official response stated that the letter had not been addressed or filed with that particular office, and another offered the vague justification that the decision to deny the request “fits within several exceptions to the Open Records Law regarding disclosure.”

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