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Green Bay finance committee discusses legal fees over pending audio surveillance lawsuit

In a letter to the Brown County district attorney, a Wisconsin State Senate attorney is asking the D.A.'s office to open a criminal investigation over Green Bay City Hall's audio surveillance system
Posted at 10:36 PM, Feb 28, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-28 23:36:08-05

GREEN BAY (NBC 26) — In a letter to the Brown County District Attorney on Tuesday, Wisconsin State Senate Attorney Ryan Walsh is asking the D.A.'s office to open a criminal investigation over Green Bay City Hall's audio surveillance system.

Last week, Walsh filed a lawsuit in Brown County Circuit Court about the issue, claiming the use of City Hall's recording devices is illegal.

The city has said its security system is legal and commonplace.

Green Bay's finance committee discussed the possible legal expenses in regards to the issue on Tuesday.

"The way I see it is if there is a way to avoid any lawsuit or any potential litigation or liability to the city, I think as a council, I think we should explore that," District 12 Alderman Jesse Brunette said.

City Attorney Joanne Bungert answered questions from council members about potential legal fees and damages.

Bungert said the city has a $250,000 deductible budgeted for any lawsuit made against it.

If needed, the city's insurance company would cover the rest, which Bungert thinks is up to $1 million.

"They're providing coverage subject to reservation of rights, which is standard," Bungert said.

Bungert assured the committee that individual aldermen or the entire council are not defendants.

The lawsuit filed last week names the city and Mayor Eric Genrich as the defendants.

Bungert said the audio surveillance system was funded through the budget, but because the equipment costed less than $25,000, the purchase wasn't required for council approval.

"I'm not directing this at you (Bungert), but this is why I think as a council we're frustrated," Brunette said. "Because they're trying to limit the financial exposure to the city, we're told it's because of security reasons. But yet, we didn't have a policy discussion or a budget discussion around securing this building (City Hall)."

"We're almost in the sense of cart before the horse here, because we're talking about how do we protect the financial well-being of the city, and we don't even know why we're in the position that we're in," District 9 Alderman Brian Johnson said.

As the pending lawsuit unfolds, Alderman Chris Wery, who publicly brought up the audio surveillance issue at council three weeks ago, is requesting that the surveillance be immediately removed, and that the city creates a surveillance ordinance. It's up for discussion and for possible action during Wednesday's parks committee meeting.

There is a motion hearing scheduled in Brown County Circuit Court on Thursday at 9:30 a.m. to determine whether or not audio surveillance can continue at City Hall.