Surge in requests for open records prompts village to draft policy

Spate of inquiries for officials’ documents on dispatch decision sparks call to update ordinance
By 
JOE POIRIER
Ozaukee Press Staff

In response to a spate of open-records requests involving the Grafton Village Board’s controversial decision to transfer all dispatching services to Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Office last year, officials are drafting an open-records policy and updating their record-retention ordinance. 

“All we have are state statutes as guidelines. We would like something formal to distribute to anyone requesting an open record or for a reference for village staff to handle requests,” Village Administrator Jesse Thyes said. 

The Village Finance Committee on Monday discussed drafting and updating the policies but tabled the matter for further discussion.

According to village documents, the vast majority of open-records requests since July 2 were related to the transition of dispatch services. More than 60 requests were made by AnneMarie Wenten, who was seeking correspondences between village officials mostly involving the Grafton Fire Department, emergency medical dispatch and written directives given to her husband, Grafton Police Chief Charles Wenten, in regard to dispatch services.

Trustees Lisa Uribe Harbeck and Sue Meinecke made similar requests. 

Wenten is a candidate for the Village Board in the April election and had sought to fill a vacant trustee seat in fall.

Because of the number of open-records requests, village staff has less time to perform other duties, Thyes said. 

“Giving priority to open-records requests does take away from performing other daily tasks,” he said. “You have to give priority to the requests, and you need to respond in a reasonable amount of time, all while having more record requests come in.”

During the meeting, members discussed reducing the price per photocopied page from 25 cents to 5 cents. According to the Wisconsin Department of Justice public records policy, photocopy fees should be approximately 15 cents per page, and “anything in excess of 25 cents may be suspect.”

Thyes said there is no charge to request digital copies of records.

“We’re not looking to make money on this. We strictly want to set forth a village policy in accord with state law, case law and Department of Justice publications,” Thyes said.  

He also said the committee will consider charging the person making the request if it costs $50 or more to locate records.

Officials are also to consider a policy for sharing village-related records from private email accounts. Village Attorney Michael Herbrand said trustees can use private emails for village matters.  

No action was taken at the meeting, but the committee was directed to provide questions for Thyes to research. 

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