Madison— The state Department of Natural Resources blacklisted a group of 16 citizens and activists with complaints about how the agency managed wildlife and administered clean water and other rules.
Being put on the “do not respond” list was supposed to mean that going forward agency staff would not respond to the complainants except for those responses required by the state’s open records law.
One of the people on that list was Owen Buske, a 78-year-old Franklin man who said that he had ended up paying more than $16,000 to install a new well on his property after problems with contamination of another well that he shared with two other parties.
Buske said he called about 20 different DNR employees for a total of 40 times in an unsuccessful attempt to improve the well and his drinking water but was respectful.
“I found it to be incredibly disappointing,” he said of the experience.
DNR spokesman George Althoff said that state staff had responded to all the people on the list at some point in their contacts with the agency.
The DNR has found itself under criticism in recent months for not being transparent enough with the public about how the agency administers environmental protections as well as game and fish laws. Other state officials have also faced opposition for seeking to limit access to open records.
Environmentalists have sued the DNR twice since December over the length of time they must wait for records they have requested. Also, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Feb. 5 that the DNR screens and shepherds records requests deemed politically sensitive by running them past political appointees before the records were released.
The do-not-respond list, which is marked “confidential” at the top of it, was released to the newspaper under the open records law.
Althoff said in an email that the list was created in around 2013 by an unnamed administrative assistant to help track contacts from people who were deemed either very repetitive or abusive.
Names were referred to the list by a variety of DNR officials, including Mike Bruhn, then the No. 3 official at the agency, and by the office of Secretary Cathy Stepp. The last name was added to the list in early 2015, Althoff said. Stepp was appointed by Walker and she in turn appointed Bruhn.
List of those “blacklisted:”
Lynn and Nancy Utesch
The Sprecher family: Terry, Dawn, and Milton