Dozens of open records requests to Wisconsin DOJ have sat for more than a year

by Henry Redman, Wisconsin Examiner, March 1, 2023

The Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) has more than three dozen pending open records requests that have remained unfulfilled for more than a year, according to the agency’s public list of open requests.

The backlog of requests has caused wait times to grow for newer requests. It also has open government advocates worried about the consequences for transparency when the agency responsible for interpreting and enforcing Wisconsin’s public records and open meetings laws is itself struggling to keep up.

The department’s Office of Open Government, which is responsible for responding to open records requests and answering public inquiries about the interpretation of open government laws, reported that in 2022 the agency received a record-high 924 public records requests — beating the previous record by 100.

“We’ve got a number of excuses that are trotted out — too many requests, we don’t have enough staff,” says Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council. “I’m largely unsympathetic to that argument. The open records law says that performing the function of giving people records is the primary responsibility of the state of Wisconsin. The public agencies need to take that seriously. If they’re understaffed, they need to be fully staffed. You can’t just say, ‘We get too many requests,’ you have to meet your responsibility under the law to have adequate staff for this vital function.”

(Agency spokesperson Gillian) Drummond, however, said that the DOJ under Kaul does not categorically deny requests as being “overly burdensome,” a move that she says was common under the previous Republican administration. If those large requests aren’t being denied, they can add to the length of time they take to fulfill.

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