Guest commentary Your right to know, and your resource

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As Wisconsin Attorney General, I’m frequently called upon to provide advice on public records to government agencies at all levels.

Sunshine Week 2017 provides us the perfect opportunity to assess our own responsiveness to public records requests at the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ). In the year before I took office it took DOJ, on average, 53 days to fulfill a public records request. Every year since then, DOJ’s average response time has dropped: 32 days in 2015, 23 days in 2016, and now just 5 days in the first quarter of 2017.

The agency owes this decline in public records request response time to the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s Office of Open Government, which I established in 2015. At the time, I took this action to renew the agency’s commitment to the pursuit and protection of an open and transparent government. But I also hoped the Office of Open Government would become a resource for every Wisconsin citizen, because without an open and transparent government, a citizen will not be able to fully participate in our democracy.

TODAY, I am proud to say that in addition to cutting down DOJ’s public records response times, the DOJ Office of Open Government has become one of the state’s top open government resources, and helps ensure the sun can shine through every level of government in Wisconsin.

By offering assistance to citizens, journalists, elected officials, law enforcement, local government, and businesses through the trainings, seminars, resources, and help line, people are now more informed of what they are entitled to under Wisconsin’s open government laws.

The Office of Open Government has provided 13 trainings for state agencies, local government officials, and law enforcement in 2016. This also included public records and open meetings seminars, held in Madison and Green Bay, which were open and available to the public. And, all materials from these trainings are available for the public’s use on the DOJ website.

THE OFFICE of Open Government also maintains the Public Records & Open Meetings (PROM) Help Line, where anyone can obtain assistance from our legal experts on Wisconsin’s public records and open meetings laws.

In 2016, the Office of Open Government received more than 400 calls to the PROM help line, where office staff answered your most pressing open government questions, like: what is my right to speak at tonight’s city council meeting; and, what can I do now that my local government entity has denied my public records request?

The Office of Open Government also published an updated fee schedule last year that more accurately reflects the actual cost of retrieving electronic records and will reduce fees in many cases. The revised fee schedule makes the basis for fees clearer and will continue shining light on our processes and procedures.

WISCONSIN’S government is more transparent because of our efforts at the Wisconsin Department of Justice. I am proud of the Office of Open Government, and the resource it has become for journalists, elected officials, courts, and the citizens of our state.

For more open government resources, go to www.doj.state.wi.us/office-open-government/office-open-government or call our help line at (608) 267-2220.

Republican Brad Schimel of Waukesha County was elected attorney general in 2014.

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