Journal Times editorial: Evers staff's song and dance over emails
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Journal Times editorial: Evers staff's song and dance over emails

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Gov. Tony Evers needs to handle his handlers and affirm the state’s commitment to open government by releasing his emails.

In a bizarre sideshow that played out over the last couple of months, Evers’ office denied an open records request by FOX6 television reporters for four weeks of emails to and from Gov. Evers and his chief of staff, Maggie Gau. So FOX6 followed up and asked for one week’s worth of emails. Denied again.

How about one day’s worth? Denied.

Erin Deeley, Evers’ assistant legal counsel, told the television station the email request needed to contain both a time frame and a subject so they can be turned into search terms — otherwise they will be denied no matter how short the time frame.

Wait a minute, so a requester has to know what’s in the email before they can request it? How is that supposed to work? That sounds more like a parlor game than a willingness to be transparent about state government and the communications of its top elected official.

Plus, Deeley wrote FOX6, the records were being withheld because the request was too burdensome on the office. “Wisconsin taxpayers should not be asked to pay the salary of a state employee to work exclusively on an insufficiently specific request for weeks, to the detriment of all other requests, requesters and job responsibilities, when that requester need only provide a subject matter, as the law requires,”

But the law reads, “A request … is deemed sufficient if it reasonably describes the requested record or the information requested. However, a request for a record without a reasonable limitation as to subject or length of time represented by the record does not constitute a sufficient request.”

The operative words there are “or length of time” — not both as Evers’ assistant legal counsel argues.

Faced with the email denials, FOX6 sent reporter Amanda St. Hilaire to ask the governor himself about it following a press conference on health care. That produced a remarkable bit of Kabuki theater that went like this, according to the FOX6 news report:

St. Hilaire: “Governor, you’ve said that you are committed to transparency, so why is your office denying our request for one day’s worth of your emails?”

Gov. Evers: “When? I have no idea.”

St. Hilaire: “No one’s told you?”

Evers: “No.”

FOX6 explained the request.

Evers: “Oh, that’ll be pretty, pretty boring I’ll tell ya. If I do one email a day, that’s an extraordinary day. So, we’ll work on that.”

St. Hilarie: “So you think the public should be able to see one day’s worth of your emails?”

Evers: “Yeah. It’s pretty boring. I mean, I can’t remember sending an email all week.”

That wasn’t the end of the Kabuki dance, according to the FOX6 account. No sooner had the press conference ended than Evers’ deputy chief of staff said the line of questioning was in “poor form” and that there were no plans to release the governor’s emails.

So which is it, governor? Are your handlers handling you or are you going to take them in hand. Your staff says the television station request is too burdensome on your office; you say you can’t remember sending an email all week.

We hope you figure it out and come down on the side of open government and set an example for all state government agencies to give the public the information they seek and need to stay informed on issues that are important to them.

Let us know what you decide. Send us an email.

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