In the small Village of Roberts, Wisconsin. a battle had been brewing. For over three years, resident and Municipal Judge Peter Tharp submitted more than 80 record requests to the Village seeking basic information as meeting agendas, minutes, names of committee and board members, and wages of Roberts officials and employees. All requests were ignored and went unanswered by Village President Willard Moeri and Clerk/Treasurer Megan Dull.
Tharp learned of the Wisconsin Transparency Project, a law firm founded by Attorney Tom Kamenick in September 2019. Kamenick realized Wisconsin’s Open Records and Open Meetings Laws were woefully underenforced, leading to lax, compliance by municipal officials. Kamenick’s Project is dedicated to shining a light on the operations of Wisconsin’s government and to assist residents in receiving the records they request.
On Tharp’s behalf. Kamenick flied a lawsuit in Saint Croix County Circuit Court against the Village of Roberts at the end of January 2020. The suit demanded release of the records and sought court costs, attorney fees, statutory damages of $100 for each violation, and punitive damages as allowed by law. The Village wanted to settle but demanded Tharp agree to a gag order to prevent Tharp from publicly discussing the case. Tharp and Kamenick refused to accept any type of gag order.
Finally, in October, 2020, the Village of Roberts capitulated and agreed to Kamenick’s and Tharp’s demands. The Village gave Tharp more than 1 ,500 records and paid $7500 in court costs, attorney fees, and damages.
Persistence is the key. Record requesters should be dogged in their pursuit of records and not allow government officials to thwart attempts to access information about their government. With assistance from dedicated individuals as Attorney Tom Kamenick and his Wisconsin Transparency Project, Wisconsin residents have support in securing information from Wisconsin municipalities and officials.
Peter Tharp, Roberts, WI