Environmental group sues DNR Board Chair Prehn over release of texts

By: - October 19, 2021 4:12 pm

Natural Resources Board Chair Frederick Prehn has refused to give up his expired seat. (Screenshot | Wisconsin DNR)

An environmental group filed a legal action in Dane County Circuit Court on Tuesday seeking to force the embattled chair of the Natural Resources Board (NRB) to release text messages about his tenure in the position. 

The chair, Wausau dentist Frederick Prehn, has refused to vacate his seat even though his term expired May 1. The Republican appointee’s decision not to leave has been guided by his desire to maintain a 4-3 Republican majority on the board in order to influence high-profile decisions over the state’s conservation policies on controversial issues such as wolf hunting and the regulation of harmful chemicals in the state’s water supply. 

In June, the environmental group Midwest Environmental Advocates (MEA) filed a public records request seeking all communications sent or received by Prehn about his tenure on the NRB. 

Prehn turned over a large batch of emails, which among other revelations, showed that he had been coordinating with lobbyists and staff members of Republican Senate leaders to hold onto his seat. 

Through a separate records request, MEA received text messages sent by Prehn to another board member about his decision not to leave. In its legal action, MEA alleges that Prehn violated Wisconsin open records law by withholding his text messages. 

“Dr. Prehn arbitrarily and capriciously delayed and denied MEA’s June 29, 2021 records request,” MEA’s complaint states. 

Wisconsin open records law is meant to allow for complete transparency and includes a “presumption of complete public access” to government records.

“This legal action is about holding Dr. Prehn accountable to the law, just like any other government official,” MEA staff attorney Rob Lee said in a statement. “Text messages related to government business are public records that officials have a duty to preserve and provide access to. The people of Wisconsin deserve a government that conducts its business lawfully and with transparency.”

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Henry Redman
Henry Redman

Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.