Wisconsin law requires boards to release the identities of at least five candidates to the public upon request when there are at least five applicants, according to a 2004 opinion by then-Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager.
The opinion doesn’t specify when the names must be disclosed.
School district officials said Friday they were still reviewing the newspaper’s request. On Tuesday district lawyer Dylan Pauly told the newspaper the district would respond to the request within 10 business days.
Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, said the School Board “is clearly violating the spirit of the law” by not making the names public before the board made a decision. The law calls for records to be provided as soon as possible.
“For the district to pick a superintendent candidate without first meeting its statutory obligation to identify (at least) five candidates considered most qualified delegitimizes the selection that is made,” Lueders said.
It’s also illegal. Government entities cannot require a requester to come into the office to get a copy of a record except in the rare circumstance where it is not possible to copy the record. Wisconsin law provides plainly that “any requester has a right to inspect a record and to make or receive a copyof a record that permits photocopying.” Wis. Stat. 19.35(1)(b) (emphasis added). Decades ago, the law actually permitted the government to choose whether to provide a copy or require the requester to come in and copy it. In 1991, however, the legislature amended the law to remove that choice when a request is not made in person. State ex rel. Borzych v. Paluszcyk, 201 Wis. 2d 523, 527, 549 N.W.2d 25 (Ct. App. 1996) (describing the legislative history and noting that “[b]y statute, [the custodian] was required to photocopy and send the material requested”).
Be aware, though, that the government entity can charge you the actual postage cost to mail the copies. Wis. Stat. 19.35(3)(d).
When the Education Action Group ran into this kind of excuse from a school district* in northern Wisconsin last week, they called us. We wrote a letter to the school district’s superintendent, and the very next day EAG got an email saying the records were in the mail.
Know your rights when it comes to open records! If you ever want some advice about how to file a record request, what to ask for, or whether the fees being charged are lawful, give us a call.