February 11, 2016
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A few months ago, Hillary Clinton tweeted: “Every survivor of sexual assault deserves to be heard, believed, and supported.”
However, how Hillary has handled her husband’s many accusers shows a disconnect between her tweet and her actual treatment of these women.
February 11, 2016For a guy who couldn't tell the difference between a heifer and a milk cow when I first started working for the county 15 years ago, my knowledge of agriculture has improved over the years....subscribers>>
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February 11, 2016
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Recently much criticism has been leveled at President Obama over his use of Executive Orders. The heated reaction would lead one to think that this authority was somehow unique to Obama or that the president was overstepping his bounds. Such a viewpoint would only apply to those who do not know the history of the presidency.
Recent Community columnists
Complex path of local historianís passionFebruary 04, 2016
Beginning with my years as a student at Lake Geneva’s Central School and continuing through junior high school, Lake Geneva High School and Badger High School during the 1940s and 1950s, I have always been interested in history.
Assembly bill would allow county sales taxFebruary 04, 2016
I was surprised to see that a bill that could actually increase taxes appears to have some traction in the Wisconsin Legislature. Assembly Bill 210, dubbed the “Pothole Repair Act,” would allow counties to impose a one-half cent sales tax provided voters in the county pass a resolution authorizing the action.
Traver Hotel once bustled with visitorsJanuary 28, 2016
Soon, very soon now, the 146-year-old Traver Hotel will be gone, demolished, consigned to the ashcan of history, much as the Victorian Lodging on Main Street across from Library Park was demolished two years ago.
Vigilantism is the enemy of social orderJanuary 21, 2016
In 1896 the Congress of the United States declared that the frontier was closed.
News of this proclamation has apparently come slowly to the people of Oregon.
Conservative victories found in omnibusJanuary 14, 2016
Hello and Happy New Year! It is my privilege to join the group of guest columnists here at the Lake Geneva Regional News. To be clear and up front, I will do my best to provide my conservative perspective in my columns and I hope you enjoy them. If you don’t enjoy them, well that happens.
Reflections on proposals, change to open recordsDecember 31, 2015
I haven’t read any of those year-end news compilations yet, where a newspaper names the top ten stories of the year. If they asked me for my input, at least as far as Wisconsin is concerned, I would put the state’s public records law on the list. At least two separate incidents involving public records landed on the front pages of newspapers this past year.
The first story involved an attempt by members of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee to modify the public records law by submitting an eleventh hour amendment to the state’s budget.
Among other features, that amendment would have shielded the names of individuals seeking to influence state legislation from disclosure. After a firestorm of editorials appeared over the Fourth of July weekend, the proposal was rejected five days later on a 33 to 0 vote of the Wisconsin Senate.
To my knowledge, no one ever stepped up to claim credit for writing the amendment; given the outcome of the vote, I can’t blame the author for not issuing a press release.
Things quieted down on the subject of public records, but only for six weeks. The issue ended up in the spotlight again, over a decision by the Wisconsin Public Records Board, this past August, when it considered the subject of “transitory” records.
That controversy has implications on the public’s ability to obtain records and requires some explanation. The most interesting part of this latest story, from my perspective, is that it involves the issue of records retention.
It is the first time that I can recall that records retention, rather than the public records law, itself, was the focus of a controversy. I have pointed out in the past that our state’s public records law supplies only half of the equation that state government and counties, like Walworth, have to consider when responding to records requests.
The full equation is that public custodians are obliged to supply records that are determined to be public, but only to the extent that the records actually exist. The Legislature, through the public records law, tells us what types of records need to be furnished, but the State Public Records Board, tells us how long we need to save records before destroying them.
Government can only furnish the records that actually exist. Records that are lawfully purged, after thirty years or thirty seconds, don’t have to be supplied.
The Public Records Board has authority to establish retention periods for both state and local government.
In the most recent dust up, the Public Records Board took the opportunity at its August meeting to address the definition of a “transitory record.”
Under the previous definition, transitory records were “correspondence and other related records of short-term interest which have no documentary or evidentiary value.” Under the revised definition, they are now “records of temporary usefulness that have no ongoing value beyond an immediate and minor transaction or the preparation of a subsequent (final) record.”
The board went on to provide examples of transitory records including emails to schedule or confirm meetings or events. Under the previous rule, transitory records needed to be maintained until no longer needed. Under the revised rule, as I read it, they no longer need to be retained. It can be argued that both the new and old definitions are ambiguous. The new example used to illustrate the rule, however, records to “schedule or confirm meetings,” seems to have hit a nerve among open government advocates.
I wrote about records retention in August, before the most recent controversy erupted. I called these detailed records retention schedules produced by the Public Records Board as “esoteric” at the time because so few people were aware of them.
Since the controversy I have read descriptions of the board as “little known” and “obscure.” I will admit that I didn’t know a great deal about the composition of the board until I researched it for this column. It is actually comprised of eight members and an executive secretary who does all of the board’s administrative work.
Four members are appointed by the Governor.
The Wisconsin Historical Society, Attorney General, Legislative Audit Bureau and State Auditor each appoint one member. The board’s most recent ruling appears destined for court.
Critics of the decision claim that the board violated another “sunshine” law, the open meetings law, by not announcing exactly what it was planning to do when it clarified the definition of a transitory record.
One misconception of the board’s decision is that a transitory record is now synonymous with a text message. It is not. A text message is pretty clearly a public record under state law.
The confusion is understandable because while many organizations maintain their own email servers and can archive and retrieve email messages, the same often doesn’t hold true for text messages.
Where texts go, after they are sent, and how long they are retained, is often up to the cellphone provider. Additionally, users tend to treat the technology as transitory. None of this matters under the public records law, however.
The fact that the phone company deletes text messages after thirty days is not a defense for failing to produce a text message. If the text is a transitory message, as defined by the Records Board, it can be deleted, not because it is a text, but rather because it is transitory.
One positive aspect of the recent controversy is that it raises awareness of the important role that records retention plays in open government. Text messages, Twitter and Instagram are all great technologies. Before using them to conduct public business, however, the ability to save and retrieve the records created on them must first be addressed.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Walworth County Board of Supervisors.