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Self-Policing Bureaucrats Undermine Open Records Laws

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Public sector unions moved rapidly this year to teach Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker a lesson for his “attack” on collective bargaining. Massive protests gained national attention for weeks. Out-of-state notables like AFL-CIO president Rich Trumka and filmmaker Michael Moore grandstanded.

Teachers called in sick, abusing policies without being held accountable. State employees, organized by AFSCME and the American Federation of Teachers, were also activated to create a maximum amount of noise.

One AFT-Wisconsin leader, Department of Workforce Development employee William Franks, has been particularly vocal in his advocacy for a public employee strike. From The Progressive:

“You’ve got to make hay when sun shines, and we soon will be paying the price for not making hay. We blinked,” says Bill Franks, a senior steward for AFT-Wisconsin. “It was a lost opportunity. We had to shut this motherfucker down.” (AFT-Wisconsin was formerly the American Federation of Teachers of Wisconsin, but it has broadened its membership to include other professionals).

Franks believes that when organized labor had 100,000 people marching in the streets, it should have called for some direct action and possibly a general strike. “You can’t put 100,000 people in jail,” he says. “When you have those numbers, the math is all of a sudden on your side.”

Given Franks’ clarity on the issue – and the fact that his union has his taxpayer-funded email address on its website (where he is a steward) – Education Action Group submitted an Open Records request for Franks’ communications involving the words “strike, Maddow, Madison, Walker” and “AFT.”

All the communications can be found here.

One in particular jumped out at us.

The legal counsel for Franks’ department forwarded our email request to Franks. The attorney asked Franks to forward him all emails related to our request – in essence asking the accused to provide evidence for the prosecution. This action undermines the intent of the Open Records law. Does anyone honestly expect state employees to voluntarily turn over their embarrassing or questionable emails?

Bernstein also wrote to Franks, “…If you have personal email that contains those specified words in the request, please send copies of those to me, so we can discuss this further.”

What a joke. It sounds like one bureaucrat trying to protect another. With our email in hand, obtained from the department attorney, Franks proceeded to sent it to several union activists.

That prompted AFT-Wisconsin “chief steward” Anthony Reeves to pen a threatening letter to Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, demanding she “refer this matter to the Internal Revenue Service.”

He doesn’t like the fact that citizens can request the communications of government employees under the Open Records law and he wants the IRS to harass Education Action Group.

I guess this is what happens when you question bureaucrats’ communications: they can choose what to release and try to sic the IRS on you!

Whatever became of true public servants? And what happened to the reasonable expectation that government is accountable to taxpayers?

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