Gov. Evers' Office says no record of discipline for secret recording

Governor Tony Evers' staff says there is no record of disciplinary action taken against the person who secretly recorded a private telephone meeting with Republican legislative leaders in May.

“I directed the staff to know that was improper and it will never happen again,” Evers said in a call with reporters in June, shortly after the recording became public. “This is obviously a personnel issue and discipline issues are being handled internally.”

Governor Tony Evers

Evers has refused to name the person who recorded the May 14 phone conversation with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau). He says at the time he was unaware the meeting was being recorded, but later learned the recording existed for note-taking purposes.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau)

Once the recording was created, it was considered a public record under Wisconsin's Open Records Law. The public learned of the recording's existence in June when Governor's Office released it in response to an open records request.

Members of both parties criticized the act of secretly recording the conversation, prompting calls to fire the person responsible.

Vos was also criticized for his comments during the call, in which he attributed a COVID-19 outbreak in Racine County to “a large immigrant population where it’s just a difference in culture where people are living much closer and working much closer."

FOX6 filed a request asking for records reflecting disciplinary action taken against staff members who recorded the conversation. Years of Wisconsin case law says government employee discipline is a matter of public record.

More than one month later, the Governor's Office issued a final response letter, saying, "We have no records responsive to your request."

FOX6 asked the Governor's Office whether the response means no one was disciplined, or if it means the Governor's Office disciplined an employee without keeping record of the action.

No one responded.

Fitzgerald did not respond to a request for comment. Vos emailed FOX6 a statement:

“If Governor Evers had interest in having a good working relationship with the Legislature, he would have made good on his word to handle his staff’s seemingly-illegal action internally and personally apologized for eroding bipartisan trust. Unfortunately, his inaction speaks louder than his words ever could.”

Wisconsin law allows a person to record of a conversation so long as at least one party is aware of the recording. Evers' legal counsel has said in the past that someone on the call consented to the recording, but has not said who took that action.