As we announced to the thunderous applause of our vast readership last Friday, we are climbing down off our “It is SO totally easy to file open records request” perch. We are going to actually file one, describing each step in detail, so you can decide for yourself if it is easy, hard, doable or not doable for an ordinary citizen, or somewhere in between.
Our “target” is the Governor’s Mansion in Wisconsin.
What we want to know is: What are the mansion’s energy needs?
Our first step was the Wisconsin open records page on WikiFOIA. We decided we’d better look at the Open Government Guide for Wisconsin prepared by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press to see if utility bills are FOIAable under Wisconsin law.
In that guide, under Section 4 (“Record Categories”), Subsection “M” is about “Public Utility Records”. It says:
The Public Service Commission may “withhold from public inspection any information which would aid a competitor or a public utility in competition with the public utility.” Wis. Stat. § 196.14. In addition, administrative hearings, which include Public Service Commission hearings, may take steps to “protect the trade secrets.” Wis. Stat. § 227.46(7).
That doesn’t apply to us, so we should be good. We didn’t find anything else in the Open Government Guide that would suggest that utility bills for a publicly owned property are non-FOIAable, so we think we should be able to obtain copies of those energy bills.
But…who do we send the request to?
We googled “Wisconsin Governor’s Mansion, FOIA officer”, to figure out where to send the request. No useful information popped up.
We tried the Wikipedia entry on the Governor’s Mansion. Here, we saw that some people refer to the Governor’s Mansion as the “Executive Residence”, so we tried googling “Executive Residence Wisconsin”.
That worked better. The third item down in those search results took us to this Wisconsin government website. Many clicks later on this promising-looking website, we found a list of facilities managers.
That sounds about right as someone who should receive this open records request–or, at least, they might know who we should ask, if it isn’t them.
I wish that the Department of Administration or the Facilities Administration Information Center had listed a FOIA officer, but I couldn’t find one. They do have a section of the website for the State Records Center, but that just seems to be an administrative department working to preserve records, not the place a member of the public would go to to file a request. And there is a Public Records section of the website, but again, all the information is geared toward state employees, and is not helpful to a citizen trying to make a request.
According to the list of facility managers, there are two contacts for Facility Manager for the Executive Residence: Ron Blair, Assistant Director and Bill Beckman, Superintendent. The list gives their e-mail addresses and phone numbers. There is also a street address of what must be the office they work from, but I’d like to do this all from home.
So far, after about an hour of work, I’m guessing who the right person to make this request with is. I’m reasonably sure that either Ron or Bill can help me with gaining access to utility bills, but not positive. What should I do now? Call the phone number and ask who I should send the FOIA to? E-mail with the same question? Just send the FOIA and hope that someone replies?
Friday FOIA scorecard:
Time invested: About one hour.
Uncertainty level on a scale of 1-10: Seven.
Tune in next week.