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MPD releases record it fired worker for posting

But how can an employee by fired for releasing information that the department itself freely parts with in response to an open records request?
But how can an employee by fired for releasing information that the department itself freely parts with in response to an open records request?
Credit:Kendall Hallett
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On Dec. 5, 2007, the Madison Police Department fired Kendall Hallett, a parking enforcement officer. The reason stated on Hallett's termination letter was that he had "posted a number of documents to the Internet," in violation of the MPD's policy regarding access to police records.

The document of primary concern was a spreadsheet showing the number of citations issued each month by the city's parking enforcement officers. Hallett says he posted this record on his personal website to show that the number of citations he was writing was not unacceptably low. Later, after concerns were raised, he redacted the names of the parking enforcement officers.

David White, staff representative for Council 40, argues that the department is misapplying its rule regarding records access. While it would have been inappropriate for Hallett to post a record that compromised the department or an ongoing investigation, the spreadsheet was a "public record" whose release harmed no one.

On Dec. 7, Isthmus made a formal open records request for the most recent version of the spreadsheet document posted by Hallett. The MPD reviewed the request, and on Dec. 11 released the spreadsheet, without redactions.

Accompanying the document was a statement of explanation by Capt. Carl Gloede. It provides information that would be useful to anyone attempting to interpret these numbers.

Gloede explains that "specific job responsibilities vary greatly" among parking enforcement staff. Many "variables" would affect the number of citations issued by an individual employee. These include the shift and hours worked; the assignment and location, and the weather.

For instance, some parking enforcement officers work downtown areas, mainly writing tickets at meters. They can write many more tickets than an employee charged with enforcing violations of, say, two-hour limited parking signs. (These involve two visits per ticket -- to mark a vehicle tire and a return trip.)

Other parking enforcement officers may be working the night shift, enforcing alternate-side parking rules. And at least one employee is specifically charged with enforcing rules regarding handicapped parking.

So that gives some context for interpreting these numbers. But how can an employee by fired for releasing information that the department itself freely parts with in response to an open records request?

"We have a process in place for employees on the release of any documents," says Gloede, speaking in general and not in specific regard to the Hallett case. He notes that MPD employees have access to all sorts of documents: "Some are public records; some aren't."

Employees may be in a position because of their job to obtain certain records, "but that does not extend to releasing any documents" for personal reasons. "They need authorization."

Of course, now that the record has been officially released, anyone can link to it for any reason, right off the Isthmus website, without breaking any rule.

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