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Editorial: A lawsuit that shouldn't have been

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opinion River Falls,Wisconsin 54022 http://www.riverfallsjournal.com/sites/all/themes/riverfallsjournal_theme/images/social_default_image.png
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Editorial: A lawsuit that shouldn't have been
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

Recently a St. Croix County man did something rare: He sued the county, made his point and then asked for only $254.90 -- just enough to cover out-of-pocket costs for filing the complaint.

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Our commendations to Mark Brosi and his attorney, Andrea Olmanson, who apparently asked for no fees for negotiating the case.

What Brosi wanted was fairly simple. He just wanted to see the Planning and Zoning Department's file regarding complaints about his parents' property.

Brosi began his quest in June. He was shown the file but was told it was the department's policy not to release identifying information about those who had made complaints. He said he was told a staff member would have to go through papers and remove names, addresses and phone numbers.

Brosi made repeated visits to the Planning and Zoning office in attempts to talk to the right people, submitted a written request and finally in September filed a complaint in county court.

If you read the story in last week's Journal, you know the rest of the story. Apparently there never was any information in the file to identify individuals who had made complaints. Residents had evidently talked informally to town officials who asked the county to look into the matter and apparently never provided, at least in writing, the names of those upset by the condition of the Brosi property.

But by the time that became clear, Mark Brosi had spent months trying to get information that should have been public from the beginning.

His attorney was generous in her assessment. She said she didn't think zoning staff was deliberately stonewalling Brosi but may not have been familiar with Wisconsin open records laws.

The attorney said her client's goals were to gain access to the complete file and for the department to change its policy to prevent others having to go through what he endured.

Olmanson said she and her client asked for so little in damages because they don't feel taxpayers should pay the bill to settle this type of litigation.

Corporation Counsel Greg Timmerman said the county hopes to avoid this kind of hassle in the future, and the lawyers in his office will provide advice to Planning and Zoning Department staff members if similar issues arise.

There seem still to be questions about why Brosi wanted names of those complaining about his parents' property, especially since the Planning and Zoning file had been inactive since 2007.

But while Wisconsin open records laws don't give everyone blanket access to government records, there is nothing in the law that says government workers are allowed to certify a person's motives before letting him review public records.

Selling booze: No big deal

The Journal's poll question this week asked: What is your opinion of the city's decision to allow Walgreen's to sell wine and beer in the River Falls store?

Early results went like this: SO WHAT, 57.6%; HATE IT, 24.2%; GREAT MOVE, 18.2%.

Vote at www.riverfallsjournal.com.

A new question will be posted later this week.

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