Those who seek to prevent freedom of information have been busy this week.
One developing story involved the antics of the Lafayette County Land Conservation Committee in Wisconsin.
This committee is “in charge of coordination of activities related to natural resources management and protection.”
The circus began when the committee introduced a resolution outlining “protocol procedure for southwest Wisconsin water study results.”
The resolution threatened journalists, warning that if they “alter, edit, cut, or adjust” the press release, they will be prosecuted.
Furthermore, the resolution threatened board members, noting that any board member who speaks to the press without “the express authority to represent their committee, full county board, or the review board will be censured and publicly admonished.”
It was not specified under what law journalists would be prosecuted for publishing public information.
Kriss Marion, a member of the Lafayette County Board, sent a message to her constituents noting that she is “befuddled” by the language in the preamble to the resolution.
“The reference to a ‘county leak’ is meaningless when SWIGG [Southwest Wisconsin Groundwater and Geology] study results are public information published by state and federal agencies,” Marion wrote. “Public information isn’t ‘confidential,’ and can’t be leaked.”
She went on to state that she is taken aback by the resolution that apparently seeks to place a gag order on the discussion of publicly available scientific results.
Marion also said she is unaware who the author of the resolution is, because the proposal did not originate in a committee meeting, and her inquiries into authorship were not answered.
So much for transparency. If the county board that oversees the committee can’t even get information, there is a problem.
The process continued to be convoluted.
The resolution was initially on the agenda for a committee meeting Tuesday morning.
Counsel for the county reportedly told Wisconsin Public Radio that the vote would not happen. However, the resolution remained on the agenda, and was passed on a 5-2 vote, sending it to the county board for approval.
The portion that threatened to prosecute journalists was dropped.
The county board shelved the resolution, which still threatened to punish officials who talked publicly without getting permission from the government.
The resolution also stated that future test results would be given only to the Iowa, Grant, and Lafayette county board chairs, the county conservationists, and the land conservation committee chair. This group, according to the resolution, would be known as “the review board of the water quality study.”
The resolution stated the review board would “review the results, talk about interpretations, and issue press releases when appropriate.”
Essentially, their goal was to prevent the public, and even the affected county boards from seeing the study, which is public information, and instead only release the interpretations that they deem appropriate.
If that is not a red flag, it’s hard to imagine what is.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that, during the board meeting, Board Chairman Jack Sauer threatened to throw out critical members of the public, complaining about Facebook posts and accusing attendees of being Democrats.
If we have reached a point where public officials can threaten citizens who question them, journalists who publish public information, and elected officials who discuss public information, we are all in trouble.
Meanwhile, in Coeur d’Alene, ID, the public library has been dealing with someone who has been hiding books with which the perpetrator disagrees.
Books that are critical of president Trump, as well as books on LGBTQ+ issues, gun control, and women’s suffrage have been hidden.
The miscreant left a note for library staff, stating he (or she) would continue to hide books in order to keep “propaganda” out of the hands of young people.
Both of these stories illustrate the fact that some people believe it is acceptable to suppress any information with which they disagree.
If people disagree after a thoughtful examination of facts, that can be healthy.
If, on the other hand, people think the only information that should see the light of day is that which supports their viewpoint, it is a problem that should concern all of us.
Fulfilling the responsibility to be informed citizens depends on the open exchange of accurate information, not censorship.