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Newspaper files action against alderwoman

June 30, 2010 | 08:48 AM
The Lake Geneva Regional News filed a complaint Monday afternoon in Walworth County Circuit Court alleging that City Council Alderwoman Mary Jo Fesenmaier has violated Wisconsin's open records law.

The seven-page complaint focuses on e-mails requested of city officials, including Fesenmaier, in February and March by the Regional News and its editor, Lisa Seiser.

The public requests revolved around e-mails sent and received concerning the Mirbeau and Hummel development proposals, which now are part of two separate lawsuits against the city totaling about $150 million.

On May 21, Fesenmaier provided a typed note stating, "I have no records to share regarding your open records request." As of Monday, the newspaper still had not received any of the requested records from Fesenmaier. However, former alderwoman Penny Roehrer has provided records in which Fesenmaier was the sender and recipient of e-mails that mentioned the Mirbeau or Hummel developments.

The complaint states, "E-mails produced by Ms. Roehrer and the civil complaint filed in federal court confirm that (the) defendant possesses records responsive to the plaintiff's requests."

The Regional News is asking the court rule Fesenmaier violated Wisconsin's open records laws, a mandamus order directing Fesenmaier to produce the requested records and award the newspaper for their reasonable attorney's fees, damages of not less than $100, punitive damages and other actual costs related to their open records complaint.

According to the Regional News complaint, Seiser made written public records requests on Feb. 24 asking for e-mails "collected during the professional hard drive mirroring process and scans of your computer regarding Mirbeau and Hummel. I am specifically referring to the e-mails obtained when you brought your computers to City Hall for scanning as part of the discovery process for current court cases."

A second request made on March 12, asked for "all your e-mails regarding the Mirbeau and Hummel development process. I am specifically asking for any e-mails between yourself and other current aldermen, former aldermen, mayor, former mayors and other entities and organizations (Vote No Mirbeau and Friends of Geneva Lake) all that included anything to do with discussions about the Mirbeau or Hummel developments, proposals and land. I am asking that you provide e-mails that go back to April 2007 until now, including the e-mails you provided to your attorney."

The complaint states that Fesenmaier's response to the records request violates open records law by "failing to notify plaintiffs of the reasons she was denying the request." It also states that Fesenmaier violated open records by "failing to fill, deny or otherwise respond" as soon as "practicable and without delay."

Fesenmaier has 20 days to respond in writing to the Regional News complaint.

About three weeks ago, Geneva Ridge Joint Venture, also known as Hummel, filed a notice of injury claiming that city officials have engaged in racketeering activity as defined by statutes. They may seek an additional $247 million for those claims. Fesenmaier along with a number of current and former city officials are listed as the defendants on that complaint.

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Walworth County