75 / 64
      81 / 58
      77 / 54

      Few Wis. open-government complaints investigated

      Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen
      Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen
      GREEN BAY (AP) - The power to enforce Wisconsin's open-government laws rests with the state attorney general and local district attorneys, but a review shows that Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has never pursued such a case in his seven years in office.He and his staffers defer legal action to local prosecutors. However, those local offices tend to be understaffed and less experienced with open-records laws, Press-Gazette Media reported.That means there's little action on the hundreds of complaints from residents alleging violations of open meetings laws and public-record requests.For example, Oconto County resident Raymond Blair complained to Van Hollen's office after two of three town board members participated in a meeting of another committee, enough for a quorum of the town board.In an August 2011 letter, Assistant Attorney General Bruce Olsen agreed with him that the meeting should have been posted as a joint session of the town board and committee. But Olsen said it was a local matter, and that the decision was "a matter of policy and resources."The letter said Van Hollen "may elect to prosecute complaints involving a matter of statewide concern." But Van Hollen's spokeswoman, Dana Brueck, confirmed he hasn't done so in office.That leaves nuanced open-government complaints to local prosecutors, who may only see one or two such cases a year."I usually have to refresh myself with what the open meetings law is, because we just don't do it that often," Sheboygan County district attorney Joe DeCecco said.County prosecutors generally place a lower priority on open-government complaints because they're not criminal matters. Fines range up to $300 for violations of open-meetings laws and $1,000 for public records violations.The previous attorney general, Peg Lautenschlager, filed court cases at least twice against public entities to enforce state open-government laws.