Green Bay city council votes to remove audio recording systems at city hall
GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - There was a packed room at Green Bay City Hall on Tuesday night as the city council voted to remove audio surveillance devices installed in the building and destroy any recordings they captured once a lawsuit is resolved.
The 9-3 vote came after hours of contentious discussion and debate.
The city council also voted tonight on an ordinance amendment that would give city council the authority over audio recording devices. The vote was also passed 9-3.
The entire council meeting was 6 hours long. The council spent 4 of those hours discussing the audio recording devices before going into a closed session just before 10 p.m.
The current ordinance gives power of day-to-day operations, including security measures, to the mayor. But council members voted to take that power away from the mayor and give them the authority instead.
This comes after a lawsuit was filed by an attorney for the Wisconsin state Senate which says the audio recording devices are an invasion of privacy and infringe on freedom of speech. The lawsuit names the City of Green Bay and Mayor Eric Genrich as defendants.
A response from an attorney for the city said the surveillance devices were added to hallways outside the city council chambers, city clerk’s office, and mayor’s office, over a period of a year-and-a-half after incidents outside city council meetings and in the clerk’s office involving unruly members of the public made people fearful.
City council members said they were not notified about the new security measures although the attorney for the city said an email about security at city hall was sent to all 800 city employees.
At a motions hearing last week, a Brown County judge granted a temporary restraining order to stop the use of audio recording devices.
“I believe there is plenty reason that the council should take action to something that we had no knowledge of... we had no vote on, and this will send a clear message we do not support it,” alderman Chris Wery said.
“Mr. Mayor, you are not above the law but you have acted above the law in many ways. You can deny and you can shake your head, but the reality is the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution is set in stone, it’s written in iron pen, and you violated that,” Justin Schmidtka, a Green Bay resident, said at the meeting.
Several of the council members were frustrated by the length of the meeting and the back-and-forth discussion. A few also felt that the council should wait for the lawsuit to be settled before making any decisions.
“I think it’s shut down, nothing is happening right now, and I think we should wait for the court system to make its judgment and then move forward from there,” Alderman Bill Galvin said.
No timeline was set for removing the devices.
Tuesday night the Green Bay city council will vote on a policy to remove all audio recording systems in city hall and destroy all of the data.
This comes after a lawsuit was filed by an attorney for the Wisconsin state Senate which says the audio recording devices, which have been installed over the past year-and-a-half, are an invasion of privacy and infringe on freedom of speech.
The city council will vote on a resolution passed by the Green Bay Parks Committee, which oversees city hall, at a meeting earlier this month. It directs city staff to create a policy to remove the audio recording devices and destroy the data once the litigation is resolved.
Alderman Chris Wery submitted a petition last month requesting the removal of the audio surveillance. He questioned why it was installed to begin with and why the city council wasn’t notified about it.
The lawsuit filed on behalf of State Sen. Andre Jacque (R-De Pere), former city council member Anthony Theisen, and a citizen referred to as Jane Doe, names the City of Green Bay and Mayor Eric Genrich as defendants.
The city installed three audio devices inside city hall -- two on the second floor near the city council chambers and the mayor’s office -- and one on the first floor by the city clerk’s office.
At last week’s parks committee meeting, we learned that no city council members were informed about the surveillance devices despite a filing in response to the lawsuit that said an email went to all 800 city employees in December 2021 to make them aware of security in city hall. The meeting also revealed that the mayor and city clerk are among those authorized to access the audio recordings.
The city council will vote on the resolution at its meeting at 6 p.m. at city hall.
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