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Regional News requests court action



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May 26, 2010 | 09:27 AM
It's taken more than 12 weeks to answer public records requests for e-mails regarding the Mirbeau and Hummel developments, but on Friday Lake Geneva Alderwoman Mary Jo Fesenmaier responded in writing, stating she has "no records to share."

About three hours after receiving that response, the Regional News delivered a request to the Walworth County District Attorney's Office asking for court action requiring Fesenmaier to provide her e-mails.

According to the letter written by Regional News Editor Lisa Seiser to District Attorney Phil Koss, Fesenmaier's response is "not adequate" because some of Fesenmaier's e-mails already have been produced in other public records responses.

In her letter Friday to the Regional News, Fesenmaier wrote, "I have no records to share regarding your open records request. My apologies for this having taken so long as it did due to the broad nature of the request and the lack of direction from city staff, etc."

However, the letter to Koss states that the Regional News has obtained through the public records response from former alderwoman Penny Roehrer, several e-mails sent and received by Fesenmaier.

The letter states, "an amended complaint filed by Geneva Ridge Joint Venture in federal court cite specific e-mails sent or received by Fesenmaier that include the parameters stated in my public requests. At the very least, these e-mails should have been produced by Fesenmaier. Instead, her written statement suggests she "has no e-mails to share."

The Regional News provided to the DA's office several e-mails in which Fesenmaier was the recipient. There also were e-mails included in which Fesenmaier was the sender. The correspondence included words such as Hummel and Mirbeau in the body of the e-mails.

One of the e-mails, which was also obtained by the Regional News through a public records request to the city, was sent by Fesenmaier to City Attorney Dan Draper. The subject of the e-mail is "lawsuit" and it is dated Aug. 13, 2008.

"Dan, I am confused as to why the Hummel land division (and discussion about a concept development plan) is on the Planning Commission agenda according to the Regional News. Aren't we in a lawsuit over that land AND isn't Hummel named in the lawsuit (i.e. he is part of Geneva Ridge specifically mentioned and he was the "target of the which hunt.")? Also, didn't you direct the elected and appointed officials not to comment on the case? Seems Dennis and the mayor forgot to mention this to Lisa, again. Let me know. Thanks, Mary Jo"

In another e-mail obtained from Roehrer, Fesenmaier wrote on May 19, 2009, to Tom Spellman, Richard Malmin, Jim and Lynn Connors, Speedo Condos, Joanne Williams, Tom Muenster and Roehrer.

"If the feds come through with money for the National Wildlife Refuge, maybe some of the leftover scraps can be used to save the last decent expanse of green space in the city. It's so totally ironic that the density of development in the approved GDP for that piece is much more dense than the contested piece south of town ever proposed. I know ... it's the poor man's lake: small river and wetlands. It, too, could be an eco-attraction for the community with the right vision of function and design."

Seiser's letter states, "We believe her effort to not respond is blatant and unacceptable of a public official responsible for her own maintenance of records. We also believe Fesenmaier has been intentionally delaying and now denying our requests for these e-mails.

"Unless the Walworth County District Attorney's Office and Walworth County Circuit Court intervenes, I don't believe we will ever receive these e-mails from Fesenmaier," Seiser stated. "If the e-mails are not produced, that renders statutes regarding public records meaningless."

Fesenmaier also stated in her response to the Regional News, "To show my commitment to the preservation of records, I have been working through the Communications Committee to establish city e-mail accounts for council members.

"Because the e-mail accounts had been created but had limited storage capacity, I even went so far as to send in a personal check to cover the additional cost of these e-mail accounts. The check was returned and the expense was assumed by the city instead. I would assume the council members are using these accounts now to communicate efficiently with staff and constituents."

Since Feb. 25, the Regional News has been seeking e-mails from Lake Geneva officials regarding the Mirbeau and Hummel development proposals. Fesenmaier was the final official to respond. Former Mayor Bill Chesen provided his e-mails and a letter, Don Tolar, Todd Krause and Frank Marsala each provided letters stating they had no e-mails and Roehrer provided about 250 pages of e-mails on May 14.

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