By Kevin Boneske
ASHWAUBENON – A complaint was recently submitted to the Brown County District Attorney related to an open records request in which the village denied copies of emails of former Village Manager Allison Swanson.
Stephen Schubart is being represented in the matter by Aaron Halstead of the Hawks Quindel law firm, which also represents the Ashwaubenon Public Safety Officers’ Association.
He said he requested the emails because Swanson communicated in her capacity as village manager with Circuit Court Judge Tammy Jo Hock regarding the divorce action his sister was going through.
Schubart said Swanson sent the emails to Hock from her village email account “in an attempt to lend credence to opinions that she shared with Judge Hock regarding the pending child custody issues favoring (the interests of his sister’s ex-husband).”
After making two written requests to the village for the emails, Village Clerk-Treasurer Patrick Moynihan told Schubart July 15 the emails “appear personal in nature” and should not be released.
Schubart said denying him the records was improper, because the communications from Swanson regarding the divorce were sent from her village email account with an intent to represent herself as speaking in her capacity as village manager.
“Further, because the communications were sent in her capacity as village manager, they were clearly not materials prepared for purely personal use,” he said.
District Attorney David Lasee sent an email Monday, Aug. 24, to Halstead stating it’s not his practice to be involved in a decision to deny an open records request, if a “well-established exception” is used for the denial.
“Given the very limited resources of our office, and in consideration of the fact that (state law) allows for attorneys’ fees, damages and costs if a party prevails in (an action requiring the disclosure of public records), I have never brought such an action,” he said.
Lasee said he followed up with the Village of Ashwaubenon and determined it properly considered the open records request.
Upon the district attorney not taking action on Schubart being denied his records request, Halstead said he planned on seeking an “in-camera review” of the emails by a judge, who would determine if they should be made public.
When contacted for comment, Swanson denied having emailed Hock regarding the divorce action of Schubart’s sister.
“I have had no correspondence with Judge Hock in any capacity, so I have no idea what the complaint is about or what it may possibly have to do with me,” she said.
Schubart called Swanson’s statement and the village’s denial of his open records request “an interesting contradiction.”
“(A unit of government) would normally indicate that the record does not exist if there were no record of her emailing the judge,” he said. “Instead, the (village) responded that all such emails requested were personal in nature.”
Schubart said he believes his request for copies of the emails, which he initially submitted June 25 – days before Swanson submitted her resignation as village manager, resulted in her suddenly leaving an office she held for nearly a decade, rather than the reason she gave for leaving being a dispute with the public safety union.
“The village should, in the spirit of open government, release the emails she wrote from her public position to clear up any questions,” he said.