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GB parks committee votes to create policy removing audio recordings at City Hall

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Posted at 8:25 AM, Mar 02, 2023

GREEN BAY (NBC 26) — The Green Bay parks committee approved a motion directing staff to create a policy that would remove all audio recordings at City Hall, and to destroy any recordings until after the pending lawsuit has been resolved during its meeting Wednesday night.

The committee also approved to refer exploring the creation of a surveillance ordinance to the city's protection & policy committee.

The recommendations have yet to go through the full Common Council, which is gathering for a meeting next Tuesday.

District 8 Alderman Chris Wery had put in a request for the immediate removal of the microphones at City Hall, as well as the creation of a broad surveillance ordinance and policy on the committee's agenda.

Wery's request, which also included a series of questions about the audio surveillance, went back-and-forth for about two hours during the meeting.

Several residents showed disapproval of City Hall's audio surveillance system.

"This isn't for the people or by the people," Green Bay resident Guy Zima said. "This is just rotten to the core."

"I think what it does is makes people distrust the government even more," Green Bay resident Lynn Austin said.

Common Council members later laid down several questions about the microphones to city officials.

Chief of Operations Joseph Faulds said that microphones were installed on the second floor in December of 2021, and on the first floor in July last year.

"There were concerns from city staff and the public regarding their personal safety," Faulds said.

Faulds said the recordings have a retention period of four months.

"There is not over a year worth of data being stored," Faulds said. "We don't have all that recording."

City Attorney Joanne Bungert said the Common Council wasn't told of the microphones because there isn't a procedure in place to alert the Council on daily operations.

Bungert said the cost of the equipment was not more than $25,000, so the purchase was not required for Council approval.

"I appreciate that, attorney," Wery said. "This however, this super simple explanation I don't think would fly with a Kindergartender. I mean, how can you, in your own mind's eye or the mayor's office or anybody involved think legally, ethically, morally, that that would fly?"

Bungert said the microphones cost a total of $744, or $248 a piece.

Faulds said the mayor, city clerk, city attorney, deputy city attorney, and a legal assistant are set up with access to the recordings through the IT Department.

"Even though they were set up, it does not mean that they actually access the footage at any time," Faulds said. "What I can confirm from my knowledge is that the mayor does not access the video or audio on an ongoing basis. And from my knowledge, the clerk also does not access the video or audio."

"But you're saying they were set up so they could have?," District 12 Alderman Jesse Brunette asked Faulds.

"That is correct," Faulds responded.

Neither Faulds or Bungert could not answer who requested and approved the microphones due to the pending lawsuit.

"The pending litigation changed the course of this conversation, unfortunately," Bungert said. "It is what it is."

Mayor Eric Genrich was not in attendance.

"The mayor should be here," Brunette said. "The mayor is accountable to this council. We should be working together."

The city will post the video of the meeting in its entirety at the link here.

City leaders have said its security system is legal and commonplace.

Two weeks ago, the city posted surveillance signage on the first and second floors, as well as the building's entrances, warning visitors they were being recorded.

The city has been under intense scrutiny over the last few weeks after Wery publicly mentioned the audio surveillance system at a Common Council meeting Feb. 7.

Since then, a lawsuit has been filed in Brown County Circuit Court against the city and the mayor claiming the use of the audio recording devices is illegal.

On Tuesday, Wisconsin State Senate Attorney Ryan Walsh sent a letter to the Brown County District Attorney asking the D.A.'s office to open a criminal investigation over City Hall's audio surveillance system.