Faculty Senate delays release of audio recording

After a two-week delay, Faculty Senate released audio records of the Feb. 12, 2013 Senate meeting.  The Exponent had requested the audio recording, which is routinely created at Senate meetings, on Feb. 12.

The last item on the Feb. 26 meeting agenda, “Recording of Faculty Senate Meetings,” appeared under New Business, but no action was taken.  Senate President Laura Anderson announced that Lisa Merkes-Kress, the Senate’s recording secretary, had received the Exponent request, but that release was delayed while Anderson consulted with System Legal and the University’s records officer.  Anderson said she asked Merkes-Kress to delay release of the recording because the purpose of it generally had been to “validate the minutes.”

“Releasing is consistent with open access,” Anderson said.

The audio file was turned over to the Exponent at the conclusion of the meeting.

During the two-week delay, an Exponent reporter investigated the status of university records under the impression that the Senate might attempt to block release of the recording.  The investigation led to the Department of Justice, the UW System general counsel, and the university’s public records officer.

Wisconsin Department of Justice Communications Officer Dana Brueck declined to respond to a request from the Exponent to offer a general comment on state open records law as it might apply to a university meeting.

“The Department of Justice generally would represent the UW-Platteville in legal disputes involving the public records law or open meetings law,” Brueck wrote in an email.  “For that reason, we cannot comment on matters in which we may be called upon to provide legal advice or representation to UW-Platteville.”

Brueck suggested consulting the Public Records Law Compliance Outline and Open Meetings Law Compliance Guide available on the DOJ website.

University of Wisconsin System General Counsel Paige Reed declined to comment on the situation but said it is UW-System policy to review such records for confidential information before they are released.

UW-Platteville’s public records officer Paul Erickson, who was contacted by Reed and the Wisconsin Department of Justice prior to the Exponent’s call, said he was unsure of where the policy Reed mentioned was located but believed it to be available online.

“There is a whole list of things that could be redacted,” Erickson said.  “It would be mostly personal information such as emails, phone numbers or student information.”

Erickson noted that audio recordings are defined as public record by the Wisconsin Open Records Law.

According to the Wisconsin Attorney General’s Open Record Compliance Guide, a public record is defined as, “Any material on which written, drawn, printed, spoken, visual, or electromagnetic

information is recorded or preserved, regardless of physical form or characteristics, which has been created or is being kept by an authority. (Wis. Stat. § 19.32(2).)”

Wisconsin open record and open meeting laws do not require any person seeking public records to identify what the records will be used for or even the identity of the requestor.

Three attempts to contact Faculty Senate chair Laura Anderson, both by telephone and by email, went unanswered during the two-week delay.