MADISON — High ranking state officials have turned the tables on a persistent critic by filing a series of open records requests under a law usually used by citizens to find out what government is doing.
Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs administrators won’t say exactly why they filed the formal requests with members of their official advisory council.
But the unusual action follows a long dispute — including accusations of stalking, racism and harassment — between the agency and the critic, who is one of its former division chiefs.
Citing the state Open Records Law, lawyer for the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affair last month sent letters to about two dozen veterans groups requesting “all written and electronic records sent or received” between the organizations and Rick deMoya, a retired department administrator and longtime critic of the veterans agency.
The president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council said he can’t remember another instance of a government body using the records law to pry information out of others.
“For a cabinet-level state agency to make a request from another state agency or a quasi-state agency, that certainly is unusual,” said Bill Lueders. “Ordinarily they would just ask for the information they wanted.”
Department of Veterans Affairs Deputy Secretary Michael Trepanier said the records law was utilized in connection with legal disputes between the department and deMoya because the normal methods for obtaining information from the other side in court — called discovery — are too restrictive.
Trepanier said he couldn’t comment further because of pending litigation — deMoya has three active equal rights complaints filed with the state Department of Workforce Development, and the department has lodged a complaint against deMoya in Dane County small claims court demanding that he pay a bill for $100.
The bill is for the cost of one of the 471 open records requests deMoya filed with the department since 2005, said spokeswoman Carla Vigue.
One request was for the oaths of office taken by veterans council members, while others were for organizational charts and budget and policy documents, Vigue said.
On Thursday, deMoya said that he may have filed too many records requests, but he said the department has for too long withheld information on its operations and he is determined to force it to improve operations such as its nursing homes.
In 2006, deMoya had a heart attack and retired as a department division administrator. He said Secretary John Scocos had used racially insensitive language in his presence, and he filed the first of seven equal rights complaints against the department that year. Four have been settled, withdrawn or dismissed, Vigue said.
The dispute is juvenile and personal, said one observer who has known both men for more than a decade.
“There’s been bad blood between those two for a number of years,” said Elizabeth Benn, who represents United Women Veterans on the advisory council. “I think it’s childish and unnecessary. I think it’s entirely wrong the way Scocos is handling this.”
Benn said deMoya “can sometimes be as trivial and paranoid as Scocos.”
Scocos declined through his spokeswoman to respond. Deputy secretary Michael Trepanier said Scocos’ leadership has been great for the department and most of the veterans groups, including the biggest ones, back him.
DeMoya said he won’t back down. He said the Capitol Police twice came to his Middleton home in 2011 to warn him against stalking Scocos’ family and WDVA staff based on unfounded complaints.
“This appears to be the unrelenting actions taken by Scocos (and the department) to harass, threaten, entrap, and embarrass me as a private citizen,” deMoya said.
Department officials said the veterans groups are subject to the records law because state statute lists them as officials advisers to the department.