Want to know how much the superintendent makes? That's an open record.
Want to watch Waukesha officials deliberate and decide what to do about a proposed development? That's an open meeting.
Wisconsin has a long history of open government, and strong laws that support it. Waukesha Patch is observing Sunshine Week 2012, which begins today. As part of that observation, we want to share with you some of the open government resources available to anyone.
You have the right to see the records the government keeps — from health inspection reports to employee salaries to the entire municipal or school district budget — and to be present at the meetings where governmental business gets done. The expectation is that government is open — if they want to close the meeting or keep a document confidential, they need to say why. And in most cases, they aren't allowed to ask who you are or why you want to see the record you're requesting.
If you know of an open government issue you'd like Waukesha Patch to look into, email Local Editor Sarah Millard.
See for yourself
The Internet has made it easier to access a lot of public information. As governments go digital, the amount of information available online has grown. Here are links to some online databases you can search.
- Who's not paying their taxes? Search by name or city
- How much to Wisconsin public school employees earn? by the Appleton Post Crescent
- Look up license and credential information for doctors, nurses, hairstylists and more from the Department of Safety and Professional Services
- Has your child's day care had any violations? Look in the Youngstar database
- See how students in your school district perform From the State Department of Public Instruction
- Search court records
- Find out if someone is in prison
- See which sex offenders live in your area
- Check property tax bills and other real estate information listed by Waukesha County
- Compare equalized property tax rates throughout Waukesha County
- Report a problem with a county highway (potholes, damaged signs, malfunctioning traffic signal, debris in road)
- Find out if someone is in the Waukesha County Jail
Town of Waukesha
City of Waukesha
- Budget information
- Meeting agendas
- Elected representatives
- Governing bodies
- Code book
- Property sales
School District of Waukesha
If you want to dig into the legal aspects of it, here are links to the statutes and guidelines from the Wisconsin Department of Justice.
- Wisconsin Open Meetings Law
- Wisconsin Public Records Law
- Learn about open government on the Department of Justice website.
Waukesha Patch Open Records Articles
In early 2011, two police officers – one a late-night shift lieutenant – quietly resigned from the Waukesha Police Department after being placed on paid administrative leave pending an internal investigation. It was through open records requests that Waukesha Patch learned that one police officer, Scott Heitman, had smoked marijuana with his supervisor, Lt. Craig Rivers. The off-duty marijuana use was discovered by administrators at the police department when Rivers was placed on leave because of an altercation he had with another officer. Waukesha Patch dug through the 400-page internal investigation report that documented Rivers' misuse of grant money and insubordination.
The Waukesha Police Department fully cooperated with the open records request that was filed by Waukesha Patch.
"I think we need to show the community that we have a very high standard at the Waukesha Police Department and that we will investigate, discipline and terminate if necessary those employees who do not meet our high standards," said Waukesha Police Chief Russell Jack in an interview with Waukesha Patch in March 2011. "I am obviously thoroughly disappointed with both of these former officers. Their poor choices tarnished the badge that we are all proud to wear. It is our professionalism that sets us apart and sets the high standards of the Waukesha Police Department.
"The type of behavior that both of the former officers engaged in will not be tolerated at the Waukesha Police Department. That should gain confidence in the community in the administration of the Waukesha Police Department. In particular violations of untruthfulness and illegal drug use will not be tolerated."
Jack told Waukesha Patch that morale was high on third shift after the supervision changes were made.