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Transparency group: Dane County public health managers showing ‘callous disregard’ for open record laws

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(The Center Square) – Public health managers in Madison and Dane counties are being taken to task for their refusal to share public information about the coronavirus and the health department’s response.

Tom Kamenick, president of the Wisconsin Transparency Project, wrote a scathing letter to Janel Heinrich, the director of Public Health Madison & Dane County, accusing her of hiding public information in order to control the narrative about the coronavirus.

“I have never seen a more callous disregard of the obligations imposed by the Open Records Law than that displayed by Public Health Madison & Dane County,” Kamenick wrote. “Never have I received so many complaints about the same entity, from people who have no connection to each other, each having the same exact problem, in such a short period of time.”

Kamenick says he’s made several requests for what is supposed to be public information on behalf of a number of people. He said the response is always the same.

“I think some health departments, PHMDC isn’t the only one I’ve heard problems about, have an attitude that they are too busy fighting the pandemic to have time for record requests,” Kamenick told The Center Square. “I think it’s a combination of that and wanting to control the narrative by putting out the data and information they want known and making it hard to get the rest.”

His letter also addressed other transparency issues.

“You put out information about COVID to the public but refuse to allow people to see the underlying data. You present your conclusions as fact while hiding the bases for those conclusions and the processes you used to reach them. You are taking dramatic and unprecedented actions to curtail personal freedoms while at the same time denying the public the ability to see if the facts truly support such measures,” Kamenick wrote the department. “Your attitude that the public is only entitled to the data you choose to release does a disservice to the people you are charged with protecting and violates both the spirit and the letter of the Open Records Law.”

Kamenick said the open records requests cover a broad base of topics. He said some are broad requests, but he added that many are simple and should be fulfilled in no more than a day, or even a few hours.

Kamenick says if PHMDC doesn’t start following the letter and the spirit of Wisconsin’s open record law, he will sue them.

“Your delays and refusal to fulfil your basic obligations are unacceptable. You cannot use the excuse that you are busy with other work – the Open Records Law makes clear that fulfill record requests is a basic and fundamental function of all levels of government,” Kamenick wrote. “PHMDC is a large organization with scores of employees that has received substantial funding for dealing with the pandemic. You have the resources to treat record requests as a priority as you ought.”

By Benjamin Yount | The Center Square
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Reposted with permission