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Weapons ban at polling locations approved in Green Bay

By Heather Graves

GREEN BAY – In what many alders called an attempt to prepare for possible unrest during the November 2020 election, city council passed a resolution Tuesday, Oct. 20, to prohibit weapons, including firearms, at all polling locations at its meeting.

The resolution, which passed 8-4 with Alders Chris Wery, Jesse Brunette, John Vander Leest and Brian Johnson voting against, was brought forward by City Clerk Kris Teske after she received multiple requests from poll workers.

“This was brought forward not to start anything with rights, this is for the poll workers,” Teske said. “We saw what happened in April when COVID came around. People didn’t want to work because of COVID – understandable. Now they are asking us to feel safe and then they will work. The voters have many different choices to vote, many different ways. For us to get poll workers, there is no choice. We either have them or we don’t, then people can’t vote. So we are trying for the people who have stepped up to work in this pandemic, now asking to just not have weapons because of the political atmosphere. This is for the poll workers who have no choice but to sit there with people coming in. This is the only reason this was brought forward.”

Police Chief Andrew Smith confirmed there were allegations of poll workers being intimidated by someone with a concealed carry weapon at the former Sears building polling location during the August election.

“I was advised that because there was no ordinance or rule prohibiting people from carrying guns into that building, there was nothing we could do,” Smith said.

The weapons resolution was met with some resistance.

Some alders said it will create a situation which isn’t there.

“This is just a feel-good measure unfortunately, a solution looking for a problem,” Wery said. “Really, this could potentially create issues that would not have been there before. For me, maybe not for others, this is irrational feelings versus constitutional rights. I haven’t heard a sound reason that this will actually do anything except make it more unsafe.”

Brunette admitted it was a tough decision, but agreed it could create unnecessary tension.

“I’m uneasy about it for a number of reasons, not because I’m a gun nut, I am not, but because I understand people clinging to their right to bear arms, especially in contentious times,” he said. “But I don’t want to bring attention to this. I think if you pass something like this, especially two weeks before the election, we are going to be bringing more attention to the situation so now people may say ‘What in the world is the City of Green Bay doing now?’”

Alders in favor of the resolution acknowledged the fear some poll workers have in this divisive political climate.

“Several poll workers, all the people that contacted me, want this ordinance in place,” said District 4 Alder Bill Galvin. “The more we can do to prevent guns in the polling places and make people feel safer, I think we should do that.”

District 1 Alder Barbara Dorff echoed Galvin’s support for poll workers.

“I’m on the Elections Committee and part of being on the Elections Committee was to ensure that we have a good election,” Dorff said. “And part of it was to support our poll workers and our clerk. And if our clerk and our poll workers are asking this and they will feel supported and they will feel safer and they will be more willing to work. If the poll workers don’t want weapons in the polling places, then I’m going to support them.”

A handful of residents voiced opinions on the measure.

“As a poll worker, I am already scared enough of COVID, I really don’t need to be scared of somebody becoming unhinged, honestly, and perhaps taking out those frustrations inside a polling center,” said resident Teresa Kennedy.
Others said the resolution makes them uneasy for opposite reasons.

“Stating that we can’t take our guns to a polling place actually makes me feel less safe as a holder of my CCW (concealed carry weapon) permit, I carry for protection,” said resident Abby Ringle.

The resolution will take effect immediately and include all early in-person voting.

It only prevents voters from bringing weapons into the polling building. It does not include the parking lot.
Signs will be posted at each polling location notifying voters of the ordinance.

City Attorney Vanessa Chavez said the city is anticipating more guidance in regards to this issue from the Wisconsin Elections Commission between now and the election.

Other meeting highlights

The council also approved the second reading of an equal rights ordinance.

The next step will be for the mayor to appoint members to the Equal Rights Commission, which will include one alder.

Alders also approved the reallocation of $136,000 in federal CARES Act funds to Homelessness Assistance Programs, which the city received to use to prevent, prepare and respond to COVID-19.

Staff recommended the reallocation as the city continues to see an increase in homeless individuals due to the pandemic.

The Redevelopment Authority will oversee the distribution of the funds.

Organizations can submit proposals to the city that aim to assist the homeless.

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