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What happens to the public’s right to know during a public health crisis?

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MILWAUKEE -- In a time of "social distancing," doctors don't recommend cramming a bunch of people into a small room. So how are public meetings supposed to continue?

Wisconsin's Department of Justice released guidance on Monday, saying public agencies should continue posting notice about public meetings while holding them via phone or video; it also emphasized to need to accommodate the public when remote access is difficult.

The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, a transparency advocacy group, released a statement supporting the guidelines.

Tom Kamenick

"Government officials are going to be tempted to act quickly, and maybe not following all the normal processes," attorney Tom Kamenick said. "While it is important for them to act quickly, they need to be taking those steps that ensure public transparency and public accountability."

Kamenick is the president and founder of Wisconsin Transparency Project, a law firm that fights for access to public information. He says right now, public leaders are trying to balance the need to move fast and protect patient privacy with the public's right to see what's happening.

"I think dealing with the coronavirus issue involves getting information out into the public," Kamenick said. "I think that`s a basic and really important part of what they`re doing."

Wisconsin is still withholding information other states release about COVID-19 testing, including how many samples have been tested through the state lab. Kamenick says that information should be public.

"There's a lot of misinformation and misunderstood information going around," Kamenick said. "And one of the best tonics to cure that is transparency in government. They've got the best data out there right now and it's important that everyone has access to that."

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