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Mequon-Thiensville recall effort wins big court decision on eve of election 

Empower Wisconsin | Oct. 31,  2021

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — On the eve of a recall vote that could sweep four Mequon-Thiensville School Board members out of power, supporters of the recall campaign have won a huge court victory. 

On Friday, Ozaukee County Circuit Court Judge Steven M. Cain ordred the Mequon-Thiensville School District to turn over an email distribution list that was used to invite parents to participate in a virtual conference presented by critical race theorists. The conference, titled “The Talk, a Conversation about Race and Privilege” is one of myriad concerns recall proponents have about the radical, often political indoctrination, going on in the school system. The Woke session reportedly cost $42,000. 

The recall election is scheduled for Tuesday.

Mequon resident Mark Gierl sought the list through an open records request. District officials provided staff emails on the distribution list but withheld the emails of district parents. They argued that if parent emails were made public parents would stop providing their email addresses, inhibiting district-parent communication.

Cain rejected the district’s premise, ordering officials to turn over the full distribution list. The judge’s ruling affirms the strong presumption of public access to information in Wisconsin open records law. Cain said the district’s argument that releasing such public information would curb communication was speculation that evidence does not support. The district, the judge said, used the distribution list for “community outreach” and “advocacy,” which clearly fall under information open to public inspection. 

“As Judge Cain made clear today, when school districts — or any government officials — start spreading ideological messages, the public has a strong interest in learning whom they are trying to influence.  Government distribution lists are public records,” said  said Attorney Tom Kamenick, president and founder of the Wisconsin Transparency Project. 

Gierl said it was unfortunate he had to hire an attorney at his own expense and take a case to court “simply because a public entity did not want to comply with a simple open records request.”

“Now they are responsible for all attorney fees and statutory damages resulting in the loss of tens of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money,” the Mequon resident said. 

As of last summer, the district had reportedly spent approximately $30,000 on outside counsel, a number which has likely doubled, according to recall organizers. 

Opponents of the recall have complained that the recall is a waste of taxpayer money. That bill reportedly is $10,000. 

Amber Schroeder, one of the organizers of the recall campaign, said it’s interesting that the same district worried about publicizing the email address of parents “took less than 24 hours to post all 18,000 signatures, names, and addresses of residents who signed the recall petitions-in a move that was both shocking and unprecedented.”

“We were told by multiple attorneys that posting the signatures online was not common practice, and typically people would need to file an open records request to access these records,” Schroeder said. 

Recall organizers said the school district has twice denied open records requests for information on who approved and allowed the recall signatures to be posted online. 

They say a complaint is being filed with the Wisconsin Ethics Commission against the “Coalition to Support MTSD”, the group formed to campaign for the four incumbent Board Members. The complaint cites reporting errors, and violations of multiple state statutes, including exceeding candidate contribution limits, collusion with candidates, and failure to report advocacy, among others.

The Mequon-Thiensville School District establishment has pushed back hard against the recall movement, which has grown out of frustration over what many see as a school board that has abdicated its authority to a power-grabbing administration. Many are sick of the district’s stringent COVID-19 mitigation policies. Others have had it with radical curriculum and race-obsessed indoctrination in the classrooms. Schroeder, who has grown so frustrated she pulled her younger children from the district and enrolled them in private school, said a lot of recall supporters feel the school board is nothing but a “rubber stamp” for an administration disconnected from the community’s needs.

Recall opponents insist the grassroots effort is “an inappropriate use of the recall process.”

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