MADISON, WI – Today, Midwest Environmental Advocates filed a complaint in Dane County Circuit Court against the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for violating state open records laws by unreasonably delaying DNR responses to MEA open records requests.
The law center based its complaint on three separate, outstanding open records requests: one related to air, the second to a group of wetlands permits, and the third regarding concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).
Wisconsin’s open records laws (in this case, Wis. Stat. § 19.31 et seq.) give the public the right to obtain records from government authorities, with limited exceptions.
These laws make employees at state agencies such as the DNR custodians of the agencies’ records for public access.
As custodians of public records, the law implies a relationship of trust between Wisconsinites and the DNR, and a responsibility to serve the public by providing documentation of our government’s activities.
“We’ve experienced too many instances where records requests have been unreasonably delayed,” said Tressie Kamp.
“Now we and many of our partners in communities across Wisconsin feel that the trust that is inherent in the open records laws is misplaced.
Without this trust, the law does not function as intended and citizens lose access to a transparent, responsive government. It was time to ask the courts for help.”
Open records laws require agencies like the DNR to provide records within a reasonable amount of time, or to promptly and clearly explain a decision not to release requested records.
The DNR has delayed for over six months in providing records in response to certain requests at issue in the complaint.
“Midwest Environmental Advocates decided that legal action was necessary to resolve not only this case but to bring to light an emerging pattern of delayed open records response to interested citizens, non-profit groups, and the media,” said Kamp.
“To be clear, it is illegal and inefficient for all parties involved to withhold records from the public when the law entitles the public to requested information.”
Consistent inaction and delays on the part of the DNR prevent MEA’s meaningful review of agency action and decision-making.
This type of review is crucial to Midwest Environmental Advocates’ work for citizens and families working throughout the state on issues relating to healthy water, air, land and government.
Midwest Environmental Advocates is a public interest organization that uses the power of the law to support communities fighting for environmental accountability.
Learn more about the Midwest Environmental Advocates on the web at midwestadvocates.org, like MEA on Facebook or follow @MidwestAdvocate on Twitter.