- Associated Press - Monday, January 11, 2016

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - After a widespread backlash, the Wisconsin Public Records Board on Monday abandoned its decision to redefine a category of records in a way that could have kept many of them from public view.

The board in August changed the definition of so-called transitory records, thought to have only temporary significance. The board approved defining such records as routine agency communications that don’t relate to work or decision-making, including scheduling emails, committee agendas, recordings used for training and other specific examples.

Gov. Scott Walker’s office later cited the new definition as justification to deny access to text messages and governor’s mansion visitor logs. The definition does not mention text messages and Walker has taken criticism over his position. The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council also filed a lawsuit in December against the board contending it had violated open meeting laws in August.

“It is my sincere belief that the board, in making this change, did not intend to give state public officials sweeping new power to destroy records of public interest,” Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council President Bill Lueders said at Monday’s meeting. “But that is how the change has been applied, in at least two instances generating statewide interest and concern.”

The board scrapped the new definition on Monday, citing the public opposition. About a dozen people from across the state testified at the meeting, most of them in opposition to the changes.

“Keep as broad a definition as you can so you do have that transparency and the public can know what’s going on,” said Carol Johnson, who drove to Madison from Milwaukee.

Board members said they still plan to revise the existing definition, which was adopted in 2010, in coming months.

“In my opinion, the 2010 definition was vague and used professional jargon,” said board Chairman Matthew Blessing.

He said the new definition aimed to clarify which records are transitory in hopes of improving records management and cutting retention costs. He said that the physical format - text message, email or paper - is irrelevant to the definition.

“We haven’t broadened a definition or narrowed a definition, what we’ve tried to do is refine the description,” said board member Carl Buesing.

Blessing did not specify a timeline for revisiting the definition.


Follow Bryna Godar on Twitter at https://twitter.com/bgodar

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