Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Why isn't GMC registered with the Milwaukee County Clerk?

We already know that the Greater Milwaukee Committee (GMC) hired an army of lobbyists to help write and ram through AB 85. GMC President Julia Taylor and operative Brian Schupper also are registered with the state as lobbyists.  Given their active involvement in micromanaging Milwaukee County this is certainly no surprise.  What may be a surprise is that neither of those two GMC paid employees are registered as lobbyists with the Milwaukee County Clerk. Furthermore GMC is not even registered as a principal with the Milwaukee County Clerk.  In fact I see no evidence of any GMC registrations for the past several years even though they have been trying to micromanage Milwaukee County government for some time.

So what gives? How could an organization that has employed such a heavy hand to influence Milwaukee County government not even be registered as a principal and their paid operatives as lobbyists?

First take a look at some important definitions taken directly from Milwaukee County Ordinance Chapter 14 which regulates lobbying activities in the county.

What is "lobbying"?
"Lobbying means the practice of attempting to influence legislative or administrative action by oral or written communication with any county official..."
What is a "lobbyist"?
"Lobbyist means any person who is employed by a principal or who contracts for or receives economic consideration...and whose duties include lobbying on behalf of the principal."
There is the following exception to note here:
"If an individual's duties on behalf of a principal are not limited exclusively to lobbying, the individual is a lobbyist only if he or she makes lobbying communications on more than three (3) days within a reporting period."
What is the reporting period?
"Reporting period means any six-month period beginning with January 1 and ending on June 30 or beginning with July 1 and ending on December 31."
As far as I can tell, the only possible way that GMC and their paid operatives could be exempt from the county's ordinance is if those operatives didn't communicate more than 3 times with county officials during the above described reporting periods.  I find that very hard to believe given the way that they have been so heavily involved in trying to micromanage Milwaukee County government.

For example, just consider some of the following contacts by Julia Taylor and Brian Schupper with officials from the County Executive's office last year.   Keep in mind that this doesn't even include any contacts with County Supervisors or other county officials (You can find the below referenced communications in the files that I made public last week).

  • Apparently Julia Taylor sought an update from them regarding the LRLF Planning Committee on or around March 6, 2012.
  • On March 26, 2012, Brian Schupper emailed an administration official inviting him to a GMC event and mentioned the fact that they had also met earlier that same day. 
  • Chris Abele's calendar includes a meeting with Julia Taylor on April 5, 2012 regarding the comptroller issue.
  •  On May 7, 2012, Brian Schupper communicates multiple times with Abele administration officials asking them to write a supportive letter related to a grant that they are seeking. In these two emails he also references a conversation day(s) earlier.  
  • Chris Abele's calendar includes a meeting on June 25, 2012 with Julia Taylor.  The agenda states that they will discuss Madison's City Camp and doing something similar for the county.  They also were set to discuss "legislative strategy".  
  • On July 18, 2012 and July 23, 2012 Brian Schupper again emails Abele administration officials about getting a letter of support from the County Executive. 
  •  Chris Abele's calendar shows that he was set to go to the University Club for a GMC County Task Force meeting on July 18, 2012 
Again do these meetings and communications add up to more than 3 for a filing period? Perhaps it is close or maybe they don't by themselves but did these two paid GMC operatives communicate with any other county officials during that time?  For example, while the comptroller issue was being discussed and debated, I've heard that GMC was busy inviting county supervisors across the street to the Wisconsin Club to discuss it.

Since GMC wants to micromanage Milwaukee County so badly they should also make sure that they are in full compliance with basic Milwaukee County ordinances.  Perhaps there is a simple explanation for all of this that I am missing but I still think that the public should get a proper and full explanation. This is especially true given how heavily GMC has imposed itself on our county government.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Releasing Milwaukee County & AB 85 Related Records

In March I posted my first blog item on the proposed legislation to undermine the Milwaukee County Board.  At that time I said that the issue was important enough that it deserved a much closer and fully open examination.  Since that time I've been looking into many aspects of the proposed legislation.  I've tried to identify and document where it was really devised, who exactly is pushing it, how are they pushing it and why.  I'm not sure that I've adequately answered all of those questions to my own satisfaction but I do think that we know a lot more now than we knew then.

During this process I've compiled tens of thousands of pages of county, state and other publicly available documents and pieces of information.  I've also started compiling profile information on some of the key players and special interests that have been pushing this issue the most. So I've decided, in keeping with the spirit of my original blog posting, to fully release all of those documents to anyone and everyone that may be interested in them.  Individuals, organizations, activists, public officials, traditional media, bloggers and anyone else.  This is an important public policy issue with long-term ramifications and the public deserves to know as much as possible about its origin and its potential impact.

CLICK HERE to gain full access to nearly all of my files on this topic.

Since my own research is not yet complete, I will continue to update this public file when I obtain new and relevant information.  When I do update it I might not blog about it but I will try to at least tweet it @cjliebmann.

If you have documents, information or other items that might substantively add to this collection of records, you can contact me at the email address in the column to the right.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Open Records Concerns in Milwaukee County

As part of my job I've filed quite a few open records requests to a variety of public officials over the years.  I've not yet perfected the art but I believe that I have a fairly good understanding of the major parameters.  That is why I was concerned to read that the Milwaukee County Executive's office was requesting a $1,000 fee to simply search for records requested by the Milwaukee-based newspaper the Shepherd Express.  As I thought about this issue, I recalled seeing an internal Milwaukee County email that equally concerned me in the area of open records.

In a March 2012 email chain various Chris Abele Administration officials are discussing a draft response to Supervisor Jursik on an issue.  In a March 2, 2012 reply to that email chain Milwaukee County Corporation Counsel Kimberly Walker makes the following comment (scroll to bottom of doc to see it):
"Please see the following below... my two-cents worth.  FYI - trying to play this forward in my mind.  With the exception of my email, this email string will not be exempt from open records requests.  Should you wish to preclude its disclosure, please send additional comments, revisions etc., only to me with the names of others who should see it, and I can forward. Just a thought."
This comment struck me as being odd and it almost seemed like she was suggesting a way to conduct public business in a way that would get around open records requirements.  I don't know if the administration ever implemented this policy or how many open records requests weren't truly fulfilled because of it.  But it is my understanding that communications to the corp counsel are not covered by attorney client privilege simply because they are sent to or from her inbox.

I'm not an attorney and I certainly could have been misunderstanding something so I sent an email seeking clarification from the Corp Counsel on exactly what she meant by her emailed statement.  Unfortunately her response didn't really clear up anything at all.  Here is the primary portion of her response to my inquiry:
"Specifically, I was addressing a question related to the privilege of communications directed from or to Corp Counsel, in contrast to group communications between clients that merely include Corp Counsel, or group communications between clients."   
I didn't understand that answer and it didn't really tell me anything about the real meaning of her March 2012 guidance.  So I contacted Bill Lueders, President of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council.  He confirmed that the Corp Counsel's initial comments also caused him some concern.  He further observed that her follow-up comments were "more confusing than enlightening."  He went on to make the following statement:
"I am troubled by her response. Communications to and from corp counsel are not automatically protected. The public is entitled to know what her office does and to whom it communicates as much as for any other office. Attorney client privilege pertains to those communications in which the office is providing or being asked to provide legal advice, not anything that comes its way or whenever it feels like. I don't see that she is making those distinctions in these communications; I do hope her office is making them in practice."
It seems to me that if both Bill and I are concerned about these potential open records policies, then perhaps someone with the ability and the influence should closely examine the matter.  If the methods described in the March 2012 email are/were in fact being used, the Milwaukee County Corp Counsel should provide a complete and thorough explanation and justification for it.  If she can't then perhaps she should seek some specific guidance from the Attorney General's office on this subject. The idea of open government and open records is far too important to do anything less.  The public has the right to know that their county government is being fully and totally transparent with them.