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.

(4) comments

IceTarp
IceTarp

This is a highly troubling, very unusual, costly, and extreme witch hunt being conducted by a Wisconsin state government agency directed against a lone citizen. There is no excuse for such government heavy-handedness.

Despite its present day rarity, the tenor of this "request" is not unprecedented in Wisconsin, home to lunatic witch hunts led by then U.S. Sen. Joe McCarthy. And in Nazi Germany and the USSR, government attacks on individual citizens – particularly critics and other undesirables – were hallmarks similar to in this agency run by John Scocos.

And, government heavy-handedness is hardly an American virtue. However, it appears that in making this inappropriate and extreme "request" of Wisconsin's veterans organization leaders, WDVA's leaders have forgotten or chosen to ignore history's lessons.

Gov. Scott Walker should direct his DVA Secretary to withdraw this highly inappropriate government request, destroy any documents already received, and resign.

Tinker
Tinker

What has been happing at DVA the last few years is obscene and as hard as it may be for some people to believe, it's not uncommon for employees being punished in not so subtle ways for not agreeing with the "company line." Bullying is not uncommon, it's their most effective tool for getting rid of people the regime feels aren't loyal. It's time for the Governor to wake up and see what's going on at DVA. Wisconsin veterans are being hurt, good employees who truly want to help veterans and their families are being hurt, and money that could be better spent elsewhere is being wasted. Time to take the politics out of DVA.

lookout
lookout

If this is the case the whole staff of managers needs to be fired

RdeMoya
RdeMoya

Mr. Verburg has correctly summarized a challenge facing Wisconsin citizens...what mechanisms may advocates for positive change in government access when they see ethical lapses by state officials or when government agencies refuse to provide information on programs and issues.

Many current and former Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) employees share the frustration of witnessing harassing, threatening, dishonest behaviors by DVA managers but do not, or can not, act on those concerns. I choose to use lawful programs to try to make veterans programs and policies the best they can be. Indeed, that is my assigned statutory task on the Council of Veterans Programs (which the DVA has not allowed to meet for 8 months).

I would ask any citizen what they would do in my case when I discovered that DVA Secretary Scocos, who has a history of integrity issues, files false verbal and written statements with a law enforcement agency about you and is not held accountable for those actions.

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