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Paper wants Lake Geneva alderwoman’s e-mails

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Kayla Bunge
July 1, 2010
— A local newspaper is asking the court to force an alderwoman to turn over e-mails the paper requested months ago.

The Lake Geneva Regional News this week filed a complaint seeking court action to require Alderwoman Mary Jo Fesenmaier to comply with a request for e-mails that discuss the proposed Mirbeau-Hummel development.


The e-mails recently became central to lawsuits pending in federal court filed last year by Illinois developer Robert Hummel and Mirbeau of Geneva Lake, who together in 2007 proposed a plan for a hotel, winery and homes on a 718-acre property on the city’s south side.


The complaint filed in Walworth County Court on Monday states the Regional News in February and March filed requests under the state’s open records law for copies of e-mails found in a professional search of city officials’ computers as part of the discovery phase of the pending federal lawsuits.


The complaint states Fesenmaier failed to turn over any e-mails and failed to give reasons for not complying with the request.


“(Her) violations of the open records law are arbitrary and capricious,” the claim states.


Regional News Editor Lisa Seiser said the newspaper had no choice but to ask the court for help.


“We know that the district attorney’s office and the sheriff’s department are quite busy with other complaints, and we weren’t sure how long it was going to take until they got to ours,” she said. “So in order to expedite this and to get these records we have wanted for several months, this was our only option—and the quickest option.”


The complaint has been sent to the city’s insurance company for review, City Clerk Diana Dykstra said. The city has 20 days to file a response, City Attorney Dan Draper said.


The action comes on top of the two lawsuits pending in federal court as well as two claims filed by Hummel, who in recent years has tried to develop the property in other ways.


Hummel and Mirbeau now are seeking a total of almost $400 million in damages from the city.


The Gazette also has requested from several city officials e-mails about the proposed Mirbeau-Hummel development or other development on the property.


Former Alderwoman Penny Roehrer is the only official who turned over pertinent e-mails to the Gazette; she provided copies of almost 150 e-mails to and from other council members.


Fesenmaier said the Gazette would need to get her e-mails from Amy Doyle, the attorney who is representing her and three others in the federal lawsuits. Doyle said Tuesday she was still looking through documents to see if any fit the request and expected to know more by the end of the week.


Seiser said the Regional News is pursuing court action because the paper feels strongly about compliance with the open records law.


“We feel very strongly that public officials need to abide by the open records laws and municipalities need to abide by open meetings laws,” she said. “That’s why we’re called watchdogs.”



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