An advocate for open government is raising concerns about the DNR's new policy of potentially booting the public and media out of enforcement conferences.
The DNR recently announced a draft plan that declared meetings between enforcement staff and alleged polluters can be closed to the public. The department says state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen backs the plan. But a Madison attorney who represents people harmed by polluters finds the state's new policy troublesome. Christa Westerberg is also vice-president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council. She says some of her clients have sat in on enforcement conferences and found them helpful, "It's very reassuring, and most of the time their concerns have been addressed."
Westerberg says there are no stated criteria for when the DNR will close an enforcement meeting. She says the agency's promise to later discuss what took place in the conference isn't enough, "I think the public has an interest in ensuring the process operates correctly."
Walker appointee and Deputy DNR Secretary Matt Moroney is taking credit for the new policy, but did not reply to a request for an interview. Instead, DNR spokesman Bill Cosh issued a statement that says: “The presence of outside parties in enforcement meetings makes it difficult to have a candid discussion about the circumstances that led to the violations, and the steps that have been, or need to be taken, to correct them.” The DNR says it's trying to get matters resolved quickly.