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Group sues to obtain Wisconsin DNR board chairman’s texts

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — An environmental-advocacy group filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking the Department of Natural Resources policy board chairman’s text messages.

Midwest Environmental Advocates filed the lawsuit in Dane County Circuit Court against Fred Prehn, the board and the DNR, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. The lawsuit demands that Prehn turn over texts sent and received about his term on the board.

Prehn’s term ended in May. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers appointed Sandra Naas to replace him, which would give Evers appointees control of the board. Prehn was appointed by former Republican Gov. Scott Walker and has refused to step down, ensuring Walker appointees maintain their majority on the board.

According to the lawsuit, Midwest Environmental Advocates filed an open records request for Prehn’s texts but DNR officials said they couldn’t find any messages responsive to the request. The lawsuit alleges that board member Bill Smith released texts between him and Prehn that prove such messages do exist.

The filing demands all of Prehn’s texts from June 29, 2020, through June 29, 2021, that pertain to his decision to remain on the board.

Midwest Environmental Advocates’ record request did turn up emails between Prehn, Republican lawmakers, lobbyists and others about his decision to stay on the board.

Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul filed a lawsuit to force Prehn off the board, but a Dane County judge dismissed it in September, pointing to a 1964 state Supreme Court decision that found appointees can remain in their positions until the state Senate confirms their replacements. Republicans who control the state Senate have taken no steps toward confirming Naas.

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