Thursday, October 26, 2017

Foxconn's banker WEDC subject to Open Records. Or not

Some government records in Wisconsin are more open than others, so let's acknowledge that there are limitations in the Wisconsin Open Records Statute that can leave the public in the dark.

By now you've probably heard that the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation which Scott Walker proposed on his third day in office - - but was bounced as its chairman in 2015 after negative audits and a blizzard of embarrassing revelations - -  is withholding from the public and legislators the details of a record-breaking contract being 'negotiated' with Foxconn:
Now that we're into week two of the cover-up, the perpetually-chaotic, process-deficient and audit-failing and out-sourcing subsidizing and scandal-burdened Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation...has announced it will not release the final contract document until after it is signed...
This is a dangerous advancement of Walker's 'chamber of commerce mentality' governance which he's used to block any increase in the rock-bottom minimum wage, install GOP gerrymandering, weaken environmental protections, undermine public and private-sector unions and give the ideological right ballot-box advantages through Voter ID and other intrusions of state power...
I say the contract is being 'negotiated' not because Walker raised his offer of public funding to $3 billion in a hand-written one-page scribble, but because apparently the contract was pulled off the WEDC board's agenda for signing after a flaw in the language described as a "nuclear bomb" for taxpayers was unearthed.

In case you're wondering, a majority of the WEDC is made up of private sector representatives whose expertise Walker hoped would help him create the 250,000 new jobs in four years which he's failed to attain in nearly eight, but despite it's so-called quasi-public status, the WED is still subject to Wisconsin's sunlight-promoting Open Records Statute.

In fact the WEDC lauds the statute on its website:

Wisconsin has a long, proud tradition of open government. This tradition is embodied in our State’s public records law, Wisconsin Statutes §§ 19.31-39, which states that “it is declared to be the public policy of this state that all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those officers and employees who represent them.” 
The purpose of the law is to provide broad, practical access to the State government. To that end, the public has a right to inspect or receive a copy of certain records maintained by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC).
The catch is that little phrase, "certain records," which creates loopholes through which billions of dollars and years of historic subsidies can escape.
Our Lips Are Sealed.jpg

After bragging on the state's "long, proud tradition of open government" on one of its web pages, another WEDC web page then devotes considerable space to all the exceptions that make it easy to withhold the Foxconn contract: 

There are numerous federal and state laws that exempt particular records from disclosure. Common exemptions include:
  • Drafts, notes, preliminary documents and similar materials
  • Purely personal property with no relation to the office
  • Material with access limited due to copyright, patent or bequest
  • Trade secrets
  • Social security numbers
  • Plans or specifications for state buildings
  • Information obtained for law enforcement purposes, when required by federal law or regulation as a condition to receipt of state aids
  • Computer programs (but the material input and the material produced as the product of a computer program is subject to the right of inspection and copying)
  • Certain employee information
  • Identities of certain applicants for public positions
  • Identifies of law enforcement informants
  • Attorney-client privilege
  • Published material available for sale or at the library

1 comment:

Jake formerly of the LP said...

And if you caught any of the Audit Committee meeting with WEDC this week, Secretary Mark Hogan clearly did not believe he had to hand over all (or any) discussions on negotiations, or other record-keeping. This is the "nimble flexibility" the GOP wanted with WEDC- a way to avoid public accountability for the taxpayer-funded boodle they hand out.

Oh, and have we mentioned Walker and WEDC are heading to Israel the next few days? So good luck trying to get any information on their plans in the near future.