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Green Bay Common Council approves policy removing all City Hall audio recording devices

The Council also voted in favor that all audio recordings be destroyed once the lawsuit has been settled
Posted at 11:22 PM, Mar 07, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-08 16:28:40-05

GREEN BAY (NBC 26) — Green Bay's Common Council voted Tuesday to approve a policy removing all audio recording devices at City Hall.

It was a packed Council Chambers Tuesday night, with much of the attention devoted to microphones inside City Hall.

Mayor Eric Genrich publicly addressed the controversy surrounding the audio recording devices.

"The security of our staff and members of the public is really what matters in this discussion in my opinion," Genrich said.

City leaders have said the microphones were first installed in December 2021 over safety concerns.

But the microphones weren't publicly known until Alderman Chris Wery brought it up at Council a month ago.

"It's disgusting," Wery said Feb. 7. "And, you know, Big Brother is listening, and we the people are not amused."

Microphones were installed to City Hall's surveillance system in December 2021 over safety concerns. Signage alerting visitors they were being recorded wasn't posted until last month.

The city and the mayor are now being sued.

The legality surrounding the audio surveillance system is in the hands of the court system.

On Tuesday night, the Council debated whether or not the microphones should end altogether.

"Honestly, this is the most disturbing issue that I've encountered," Wery said. "Hands down."

"If you are going to take the stand that, 'oh this is a huge violation,' well then that's true of every security system," Alderman Randy Scannell said.

Before the Council discussed removing the microphones, it approved to proceed with an ordinance that gives authority over the use of audio recording technology to the Council.

"What this ordinance does it is changes one small thing," Council Vice President Brian Johnson said. "The sky's not falling, and it can always be redone when a more comprehensive dialogue can be had."

Council members then discussed what should be done about the microphones.

City attorney Joanne Bungert could not answer why surveillance signage wasn't posted right away due to the pending lawsuit.

"Clearly, we can't talk about it without potentially impeding the city's defense," Bungert said.

Signs went up a few weeks ago on the first and second floor hallways alerting visitors they were being recorded, more than a year after the audio surveillance system was installed.

The manufacturer of the microphones includes notice stickers in each device it ships.

At one point during the meeting, Wery asked the mayor to apologize over the transparency of the issue.

"Can you just apologize and say, for whatever reason — oversight, my mistake, I'm bad — can you apologize?," Wery asked to Genrich.

"I mean, you know, hindsight is 2020, right?," Genrich responded. "We could've communicated more effectively. But we sent out an email to 850+ individuals in the City of Green Bay that this was happening. So, this was not some grand conspiracy."

"I asked you if you wanted to apologize, and you're not. No? OK," Wery responded.

Genrich said Tuesday neither he, or to his knowledge, any members of his staff, listened to any recordings.

City Clerk Celestine Jeffreys said she also has not viewed any recordings, and added she wasn't aware of having access to them until it was mentioned at a parks committee meeting last week.

"Had I known that, I would not have done that because that is not in the purview of my job," Jeffreys said.

After hours of debate, the Council approved a policy removing all microphones at City Hall.

Green Bay's Common Council votes to approve a policy removing audio surveillance at City Hall.

Last week, a judge granted a temporary restraining order directing the microphones be turned off, and that any existing recordings be sealed, but not destroyed.

After the judge's order came down, the city posted new signage alerting visitors they were being recorded only by video.

As part of the item that was voted on Tuesday, the Council also voted in favor that all audio recordings be destroyed once the lawsuit has been settled.