Ethics board hearing delayed for Green Bay alder
By Heather Graves
GREEN BAY – District 6 Alder Kathy Lefebvre will have to wait to hear the outcome regarding an ethics complaint filed against her by District 3 Alder Andy Nicholson.
The Ethics Board voted to delay Lefebvre’s hearing at its meeting Thursday, Oct. 10.
“I was hoping that tonight (Thursday, Oct. 10) that we would get through the hearing and determination, and it would get to council for the final vote on whatever they decided,” Lefebvre said.
The hearing was delayed for two reasons.
The first, Nicholson was unable to attend and asked the board to reschedule; and the second, because the accusation focuses on the open meetings law, board members directed city staff to confirm no other actions are being taken on the complaint before they discuss the matter.
“The substance of the ethics complaint is a possible violation of the open meetings law, and generally these investigations and enforcement activities are handled by the district attorney’s office,” said Bill Vande Castle, chair of the Ethics Board. “I don’t know if that is an issue here or not. My concern is that I’m a little reluctant to take an action at this level that might interfere with whatever other investigations might be going on.”
City staff was unaware of any other ongoing investigations, but agreed to look into it.
“I have not heard of anything,” said City Attorney Vanessa Chavez. “I don’t know if this would necessarily be a violation of the open meetings act, but if you would like for staff to look into that we can definitely do that.”
Lefebvre said she hasn’t heard anything from the district attorney.
“That is their (the Ethic Board’s) determination, I guess,” said Lefebvre. “I don’t know why it would rise to that level.”
The complaint against Lefebvre stems from the May 14 Parks Committee meeting, during which Lefebvre admitted sharing closed session information with members of the public.
During the meeting, the committee went into closed session to discuss whether or not to purchase property near Bay Beach Amusement Park for future expansion.
Lefebvre lives near Bay Beach, and attended the meeting with some of her neighbors.
While Lefebvre is not a member of the committee, as a city alder she was allowed in the closed-session discussion.
When the committee reconvened into open session, Lefebvre shared the closed session vote with some of the people in the audience.
Video from the Parks Committee meeting shows Nicholson and Alderman Chris Wery reprimanding her for her actions.
“That’s really illegal, Kathy,” Nicholson said at the May 14 Parks Committee meeting. “You could get in big trouble with the law.”
A video of the meeting can be found here.
Lefebvre admits she made a mistake.
“It was just a mistake and it’s something I don’t do,” Lefebvre said. “It was not malicious I didn’t even think.”
In the complaint Nicholson filed with the city, he said he believes Lefebvre violated state statues and the city’s code of conduct.
However, the state’s open meetings law does not prohibit elected officials from discussing what is said in a closed meeting.
In regards to the city’s code of ethics – which outlines expectations for how elected officials conduct themselves – it does say officials are not allowed to disclose confidential city information without legal authorization.
Lefebvre said she was surprised when she learned about the complaint because she said Nicholson told her to “just forget about it” at the City Council meeting following the May 14 committee meeting.
“He said ‘you apologized, just forget about it,’” Lefebvre said. “I don’t know why it (the complaint) was delayed so long. But I did do it and I apologized.”
Lefebvre said she hasn’t spoken to Nicholson since the complaint was filed.
A new hearing date is expected to be scheduled when all information from staff is collected.
From there the Ethics Board would give a recommendation to the full city council, which would then make a final decision on whether a violation occurred and whether a punishment should be issued.
“It was an honest mistake on my side,” Lefebvre said. “But it is up to Andy. He had the right to file, and it should come out. I’m embarrassed that I did it. I guess I was just too close to the situation because it was my neighbors.”
Lefebvre also serves as the District 6 Brown County Supervisor.