Open Letter to J.B. Van Hollen: Stand up during "Sunshine Week"

Note: This letter is modeled on, and highly plagiarized (with permission) from Philippa Bergmann's excellent letter to Attorney General J. B. Van Hollen. I stand with Ms. Bergmann in calling on the people of Wisconsin to demand Mr. Van Hollen fulfill his duties as Attorney General - particularly after his declaration of "Sunshine Week" to celebrate transparency and citizen oversight of government. Van Hollen, a Republican, has been audibly silent during the past few weeks as Republican legislators and Scott Walker continue to violate Wisconsin law in forcing their (shared) political agenda through the legislature.  Please take action by calling and/or writing to Mr. Van Hollen yourself: Phone: (608) 266-1221. Fax: (608) 267-2779. Email:  (I might add that this  email address has been recently removed from the DOJ website - nice transparency, huh?)
Wisconsin Department of Justice
P.O. Box 7857
Madison, WI 53707-7857
15 March 2011

On February 28th, you wrote an address to the people of Wisconsin, the people you serve, the people who elected you, about this particular week, March 13th-19th, a nationally-proclaimed "Sunshine Week" highlighting the wonders of the transparency of a democratic government:

                "March 13-19 is Sunshine Week. This national initiative commemorates the transparency and citizen oversight so essential to our democratic system of government. Compliance with our state Open Meetings Law and Public Records Law is an essential duty of all Wisconsin government agencies, officials, and employees.

                As Wisconsin’s chief law enforcement officer, I bear special statutory responsibility for interpreting and providing advice about our Open Meetings Law and Public Records Law. I have committed the Department of Justice to educate government personnel and members of the public about these important laws, and to facilitate compliance with their requirements."

This is a fantastic idea and one can only assume you will celebrate your public display of honoring your statutory responsibility by enforcing the recent and very public infractions of these laws that have been committed by Republican members of the Wisconsin legislator, most notably in the illegal vote on Assembly Bill 11 on March 9, 2011, at which Minority Leader of the State Assembly, Peter Barca, read aloud YOUR OWN memo while the rest of those present simply ignored the law and participated in the illegal vote.  Senator Scott Fitzgerald and Representative Jeff Fitzgerald presided over these hearings with an arrogance and lack of respect for the law that was horrifying to watch. I personally watched this unfold, live, and could not believe the abuse of office and abuse of power I was witnessing. As Attorney General, you have clearly not gone far enough yet to “educate government personnel…and to facilitate compliance” with these laws. It is now required of you that you uphold these laws by holding those who violated them accountable.

Mr. Van Hollen, the entire state watched these events unfold. The entire world is watching. The video of these events records this explicit violation of the Open Meetings Law for all to see. Formal complaints have already been filed by Minority Leader of the State Assembly, Peter Barca, Mayor of the City of Madison, Dave Cieslewicz, and County Executive Kathleen Falk, which provide evidence of even further violations of State Law by the Republican legislators. 

You cannot sit by idly and pretend these abuses have not occured. As you say, Mr. Van Hollen, you bear special responsibility in regards to these important laws. Please stand up to your pledge to serve the people of this state and to uphold transparent democracy.

I am also extremely concerned over the following, which seems to indicate that a conflict of political interests may be preventing you from doing the job you were elected to do:  During his widely publicized telephone conversation with an imposter Governor Scott Walker presumed to be David Koch, Mr. Walker stated that he had the Attorney General's office "looking into" strategies to force the 14 Democratic Senators to return. This constitutes a misuse of the independently elected office of the Attorney General for primarily political motivations.  

You have been alarmingly absent and silent since February, Mr. Van Hollen. It is now Tuesday, March 15th, Day 3 of National "Sunshine Week." Where is our "Top Cop"? 


Heather DuBois Bourenane
A Concerned Citizen of Wisconsin

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