CBS 58 Investigates: Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission fail to release public records
MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- The Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission has been criticized by city leaders, including the mayor, for a lack of transparency. The commission is also taking months to respond to requests for public records.
CBS 58 Investigates filed two requests with the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission in December. It’s been almost eight months and none of the records have been released.
The open records requests were filed Dec. 20, 2019. CBS 58 Investigates asked for emails from Executive Director Griselda Aldrete and now former Commission Chair Steven DeVougas.
None of those records have been released. Bill Lueders, the president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information council, says that is unacceptable.
“It’s way too late,” Leuders said. “It’s already been a clear violation of the law. The time for providing these records is yesterday. The Wisconsin open records law says custodians must respond to requests as soon as practicable and without delay.”
Public records are anything created or received by a public official or agency, that includes things like emails and reports. Anyone, not just media, can request them. The whole point is to make sure government is transparent and officials are accountable.
“Public records are the lynch pin of democracy,” Leuders said. “It’s essential for a functioning democracy.”
On July 7, the commission’s paralegal told 58 Investigates Executive Director Aldrete was aware we were asking about the request and would be in touch. That didn’t happen. We kept calling and emailing but didn’t get a response.
We tried to ask Aldrete in person, after a Fire and Police Commission meeting. She ignored our questions.
A couple days later, 58 Investigates reached out again. This time, Aldrete responded. She says there are 4,700 records, and blames the delay, in part, on being short staffed and COVID-19.
“With the increased activity and events of the FPC since December 2019, along with COVID 19, civil unrest, the Mattioli investigation, we have been overwhelmed with ORR [open records requests] and we have continued to ask for patience since I have only had one paralegal on staff,” Aldrete said.
CBS 58 Investigates' request came three months before the pandemic, four months before the Mattioli investigation and five months before the civil unrest.
Meanwhile, CBS 58 Investigates has heard nothing from Commissioner DeVougas about when he will release his emails. Aldrete says “he has been aware of this outstanding request” and it’s up to him to respond.
Aldrete says the commission has 30 pending open records requests and we have not been given a timeframe for when she will release her emails.