Racine taxpayers got a peek under the tent of secrecy that has surrounded the longstanding feud between Racine City Attorney Scott Letteney and Racine Alderman Sandy Weidner last week, but while the brief look shed a little light on the befuddling and tortured dispute, it left many questions unanswered.
At the direction of the Court of Appeals, Racine County Circuit Court Judge Eugene Gasorkiewicz, who had previously sealed the entire open-records dispute, approved the public release of several documents that highlighted her legal defense positions on 18 emails involved in the case in which she disputes the city attorney’s basis for classifying them as confidential under attorney-client privilege. The document release was supposed to be heavily redacted by the judge, but the full document was apparently mistakenly posted briefly on the Circuit Court Access Program at the courthouse and was then reported upon.
Three months ago, we wrote that it appeared Weidner’s forwarded emails involved “garden variety legal issues and mundane, inconsequential communications from the City Attorney’s office.”
That suspicion was bolstered last week with the release of Weidner’s point-by-point release of her defense on each of the 18 emails. The emails were on a wide range of topics: the creation of the city Redevelopment Authority; discussion with a former Journal Times reporter about the scheduling of a meeting; a bar’s liquor license; a request for a copy of the city’s nuisance ordinance; and another request for the city’s procedures in filling a mayoral vacancy.
In many of the correspondences, Weidner’s defense was that she was seeking public documents and public information and not, as the city attorney alleged, legal advice or any access to “confidential legal processes and thoughts” of the City Attorney’s office.
The release of Weidner’s defense points, of course, is just half a loaf. We have not yet seen Letteney’s arguments as to why Weidner’s emails allegedly involved confidential information from his office.
From what we can see in the documents released last week, it appears Letteney threw in everything but the kitchen sink when he went to the Executive Committee of the City Council with a PowerPoint demonstration, seeking an ethics violation against Weidner, in August 2017 — as she was in the middle of a campaign for mayor.
The dispute took off when Weidner asked for a copy of the PowerPoint demonstration, Letteney denied the request and Weidner filed suit. That landed before Judge Gasorkiewicz who, in a baffling decision, sealed the entire open-records case — an unprecedented action — and later found Weidner in contempt of court when she talked to reporters about the case.
The whole mess has since been appealed to the Court of Appeals, including Weidner’s contempt citation. In the meantime, of course, the thousands of dollars in legal bills for the city and Weidner continue to pile up as the dispute rages on — and most of it is still fogged in darkness, away from the light of public scrutiny.
We can only pray that the Court of Appeals puts an end to this petty madness, and sets things straight and out in the open.