By Huckleberry Ulbricht
On June 27th, 2023 the City of Mauston received an open records request asking for a number of things. Among the records sought included copies of comments deleted from the City of Mauston’s Facebook Page for a 2 year period. The City responded with a blanket denial that the records didn’t exist or was to broad making no attempt to provide any of the information requested. After some further correspondence insisting that each item requested should have a specific denial. Having gotten nowhere with the city, a complaint was filed with the District Attorney.
The District Attorney opened an investigation into the complaint which eventually prompted Mauston City Administrator Randy Reeg to release some of the information requested and provide a detailed reason for denial for each item on July 20th, 2023. The item listed below with Reeg’s response in red.
“I am requesting copies of all persons posts/replies/comments (not just my own) deleted from the City of Maustons Facebook page for the last 2 years from todays date through today along with the person responsible for deleting each post that was ever deleted.
There is not a record that exists that contains this information.“
The problem with their response is the City of Mauston uses a program called Archive Social, a subscription service designed specifically for capturing and retaining posts and comments on governments social media accounts including comments that are subsequently deleted by the page administrators. The city pays around $3k a year for the service which was designed to help governments maintain and remain in compliance with public records retention laws.
While deleting/hiding comments is a problem in itself as it presents a 1st Amendment violation issue when comments that are critical or harsh are removed but allow other comments to remain, claiming they don’t exist altogether is another problem. Administrator Reeg has provided copies of deleted comments in the past for a shorter time frame giving the appearance of having knowledge that they exist and intent in refusing to release them. According to Wisconsin State Law it is a Class H Felony to conceal public records intentionally.
946.72 Tampering with public records and notices.
(1) Whoever with intent to injure or defraud destroys, damages, removes or conceals any public record is guilty of a Class H felony.
After having spoken at the last council meeting on August 8, 2023 the seemingly intentional concealing of public records at the hands of Administrator Reeg was brought up to the Council along with the open records violations did the City Adminstrator decide to release the records that were previously claimed to not exist. On August 10th, 2 days after the council meeting, we received an email with the records requested. However the alleged concealment of records already took place and weren’t released until over a month after the fact and after having to fight publicly to get them. This lead to charges being filed by the records requestor with the Juneau County Sheriffs Department.
In a letter from the District Attorney to Mr Reeg, DA Ken Hamm advised Reeg that records should have been released without having to get the DA’s Office involved. In the letter, which can be seen below, the DA states “While the District Attorney’s Office will treat this as a “learning” experience in these 2 cases, I will not likely look at future violations in the same light.” The other case was of a similar nature involving the group Concerned Citizen of Mauston in which record requests were improperly denied and withheld with claims that the records didn’t exist.
Please Note: The letter below from the District Attorneys Office is not the decision made in the felony charges that were filed.
This is a developing story and we will update you as it progresses.
In the interest of transparency, the writer of this article is the records requestor and the one who filed the charges against City Administrator Randy Reeg. Please remember. Mr Reeg is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.