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Private Contractor Records: Dealing with Public Bodies Can Make Them Public

Summer 1997

Our Labor & Employment Practice Group would be happy to assist you with any questions relating to this article.

Both private contractors and public bodies should be aware of their duty to allow inspection of, and copies to be made of, records produced under a contract between a public body and a private contractor.

Wisconsin Statutes, §19.36(3), reads as follows:

(3) CONTRACTORS RECORDS. Each authority shall make available for inspection and copying under s.19.35(1) any record produced or collected under a contract entered into by the authority with a person other than an authority to the same extent as if the record were maintained by the authority. This subsection does not apply to the inspection and copying of a record under s.19.35(1)(am). The Attorney General has ruled that the amount of a settlement between a former municipal employee and the municipality's insurance company is accessible to the public under Wisconsin Statutes, §19.36(3) (OAG 10-4-89). The Attorney General has also ruled that payroll information from companies who have contracts with the state or other governmental bodies can be obtained upon request, whether the requester wishes to be identified or not and regardless of the requester's motive (OAG 7-11-96). The Attorney General, however, noted that information such as social security numbers and employees names may be redacted from the requested records on a case-by-case basis.

The Attorney General pointed out that citizens may obtain copies of payroll records produced under a federal contract pursuant to the Federal Freedom of Information Act. A contractor involved in any public works project with a governmental body in Wisconsin must be willing to allow any person to request that the State Department of Workforce Development inspect payroll and other project records under Wisconsin Statutes, §66.293(10).

Recently a number of school districts and private sector bus contractors have been requested to provide the names and further personal information on the contractors' bus drivers, presumably to inquire further into their driving records at the Wisconsin Motor Vehicle Department.

Private contractors providing services to governmental bodies, whether those services are related to construction, transportation, food service, technology or other contracted services, must be aware that a member of the public may have access to their payroll or other contract related information. Governmental bodies also must recognize that they have the duty to provide to the public the records of contractors with whom they deal, even if those records are not within the governmental bodies' possession.


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