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What's in the secret emails? Documents lay out basis of Weidner case
Open records

What's in the secret emails? Documents lay out basis of Weidner case

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RACINE — What is in the previously sealed Alderman Sandy Weidner emails that the City of Racine has been fighting against releasing for a year?

That question has been partly answered this week after Racine County Circuit Court Judge Eugene Gasiorkiewicz’s office approved the public release of several documents related to the open records case of Weidner.

A previously sealed document, filed by Weidner’s defense on April 4, 2018, summarizes 18 emails involved in the case, the City Attorney’s basis for classifying them under attorney-client privilege, and why the defense believed they did not qualify.

The sealed emails included correspondence about everything from the city’s Redevelopment Authority to a case involving a bar’s liquor license. It also included an email sent to a former Journal Times reporter about scheduling for a public meeting, a PowerPoint presentation reportedly given at a public meeting, and details about development projects including the proposed arena project.

That document was available at the Racine County Courthouse on Wednesday; however, was later taken down on Thursday.

Summary of content of the emails

Below are descriptions of the 18 emails as summarized by Weidner’s defense. It references a log the city filed with its arguments for why Weidner’s shared correspondences fall under attorney-client privilege and are confidential.

That document from the city was not available. Under the summary of the emails, Weidner’s defense quoted or summarized the city’s alleged arguments, many of which claim the emails included the City Attorney’s Office’s, “confidential legal processes and thoughts.”

In many cases, Weidner’s defense argued she had requested, received and shared public information, not legal advice.

Correspondence One

“Email from alderperson regarding a constituent’s claim for garage damages and asking for an explanation of the ‘claims process and the usual time of completion from submission to decision.’”

Weidner’s defense argued that the alderperson was asking the City Attorney’s office for information.

Correspondence Two

“Email giving Common Council and City officials ‘preliminary notice of a Petition for Direct Legislation seeking changes in the marijuana ordinances.”

Due to the timing of this case, this email is probably referring to the Racine Green Party’s petition to set the forfeiture for marijuana possession under 25 grams at $1, although it is unclear.

Racine Green Party seeks $1 fine for pot ordinance violations

Weidner’s defense argued the email, “is merely a preliminary notice, and basic summary of, the Petition and explanation of the process, not advice as to the substance or viability of the Petition.”

Correspondence Three

“Email chain regarding retention of outside counsel on a development project.”

Weidner’s defense wrote that the initial inquiry was addressed to former City Administrator Tom Friedel pertaining to her skepticism about the city’s hiring decision and that the response from the City Attorney’s office did not provide legal advice.

It is not clear which development project is being referenced.

Correspondence Four

“Email transmitting the Wisconsin Open Meeting Law in response to request for statutes and ordinances regarding when ‘a City committee, board authority, or Council may go into closed session.’”

Weidner’s defense wrote that in the Ethic Board submission, City Attorney Scott Letteney said she was, “requesting information regarding a specific point of state law,” and that in the log filed by the city in Weidner’s case, it was described as a “request for legal advice and legal authority.”

Correspondence Five

“Email attaching the resolution creating the Redevelopment Authority.”

According to the defense, the city argued the email reflected the “confidential legal processes and thoughts” of the City Attorney’s Office; Weidner’s defense said the office provided the resolution which is a public document.

Correspondence Six

“Email attaching a copy of the statute regarding the creation and authority of the redevelopment authorities and a paper on redevelopment authorities published by the University of Wisconsin extension.”

Allegedly the alderperson was seeking information on the authority of the RDA, which Weidner’s defense argued is not a request for legal advice.

Correspondence Seven

“Email chain responding to alderperson’s inquiry requesting a copy of the services agreement with S.B. Friedman, the list of services costs and projects, as well as copies of billing and identity of payor account.”

The City of Racine contracted SB Friedman Development Advisors, a real estate consultant based in Chicago, for the proposed arena that ultimately never went forward.

Weidner asking for council oversight on professional services spending

Weidner’s defense argued that information classified as open records.

Correspondence Eight

“Assistant City Attorney transmitting nuisance ordinances.”

Weidner’s defense argued the email was a request for information, not legal advice.

Correspondence Nine

“Email and memorandum describing procedures for filling mayoral vacancy.”

Weidner’s defense argued the email was a request for information, not legal advice.

Correspondence 10

“Alderperson’s request whether a specified contract would need Council approval. (Continuation of correspondence seven.)”

Weidner, referred to as Ald. C in the document, asked the City attorney’s office whether an agreement for $25,000 would require bids and council approval and whether the contractor could be offered an additional amount less than $25,000 without council approval.

According to her defense, the City Attorney responded citing applicable Racine ordinances.

“The type of question asked by Ald. C (Weidner) is routinely asked of the City Attorney in many other open contexts (i.e., Common Council meetings),” wrote her defense. “Considering the nature and context of the request, it cannot be said that she was making a confidential request for ‘legal advice’ (and this is confirmed by her subsequent sharing of the information.”

Correspondence 11

“Email from City Attorney transmitting ordinances regarding procurement of professional services.”

Again, Weidner’s defense argued that what was shared was information, not legal advice.

Correspondence 12

“Email to Common Council and other City official providing a ‘general outline’ of a tentative settlement agreement with a local business in a liquor license dispute.”

This could be referring to the city’s $1.3 million settlement with several minority bar owners in 2015. The bar owners accused the city of conspiring to close down minority-owned bars in Downtown Racine.

The city argued the email provided, “confidential legal advice regarding an active liquor license due process hearing and the potential settlement thereof.”

Weidner’s defense wrote the court ruled in Journal Sentinel Inc. v Shorewood School Board that such documents are considered open records.

Correspondence 13

“Email attaching the resolution creating the Redevelopment Authority.”

Same as Correspondence Five.

Correspondence 14

“Email where the City Attorney ‘address (es) several possible scenarios for the scheduling of a Special Mayoral Election.”

Weidner’s defense alleges that Letteney referenced his email and “in fact reiterates its contents in open session during a presentation of almost 25 minutes.”

Correspondence 15

“Email attaching PowerPoint presentations made to the Committee of the Whole on June 29, 2017.”

Weidner’s defense alleges the presentation was presented at an open meeting on June 29, 2017 and was also available on the city’s website.

Correspondence 16

“An email and attached letter from a non-City attorney to City Attorney Letteney and Ald. C (Weidner).”

The city argued the attached letter, “contained confidential health information regarding a city employee,” that Weidner allegedly passed along to Jim Spodick, an longtime critic of the city.

“(G)iven this background, it presents a tremendous danger and risk to the City for Mr. Spodick to have access to confidential and/or privileged communications between the City and its counsel,” the city wrote, which Weidner’s defense quoted and called hyperbole.

Weidner’s defense stated that the letter does not contain confidential health information. Weidner’s defense also stated, “City hyperbole aside, the Mason letter is obviously not privileged.” It is unclear exactly what the “Mason letter” is referring to.

Correspondence 17

“Email chain between City Attorney and Ald. C (Weidner) regarding scheduling of matters before the Committee of the Whole.”

The defense quotes the city saying the emails regard, “the City Attorney’s legal processes in determining when to schedule certain agenda items based on City ordinances,” and then forwarded said information to former Journal Times reporter Patrick Leary.

The defense argued that Weidner had emailed the City Attorney on July 24, 2017 to “express her preference that a certain matter be given more authority” and was not seeking legal advice. According to the defense, the reply contained dates and times for future Committee of the Whole meetings and that a guest speaker had been invited to a certain meeting.

Correspondence 18

“Email from Ald. C (Weidner) regarding an establishment and its liquor license (copied to several constituents outside City government).”

The city allegedly argued the email was privileged because it, “pertains to information that she previously learned via privileged communications, namely those about revisions to City ordinances made by the City Attorney’s Office and about the City’s action toward an establishment’s liquor license.”

Her defense argued Weidner’s intention was to address a constituents’ concerns and that she disclosed “no confidential, privileged or other protected information.”


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Christina Lieffring covers the City of Racine and the City of Burlington and is a not-bad photographer. In her spare time she tries to keep her plants and guinea pigs alive and happy.

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