Green Bay council delays vote on November election support
By Heather Graves
GREEN BAY – Allegations questioning the integrity of the November 2020 election in the City of Green Bay found their way to the city council meeting Tuesday, March 16 – with strong opinions from both sides.
“To me, this is very simple, I feel like we are making a big brouhaha out of nothing,” said District 7 Alder Randy Scannell. “This is a lot of nonsense.”
Others said the discussion surrounding the November election is warranted.
“I am going to err on the side of patience,” said District 10 Alder Brian Johnson. “I do not believe the election results were compromised or tainted, but this is about process and trust.”
The discussion comes less than a week after Republican state lawmakers called for Mayor Eric Genrich’s resignation.
“For me personally, I guess I signed up to be a target for all kinds of grievances, but that is not the case for our city employees and poll workers,” said Genrich. “Those that were involved in the November elections deserve nothing but our gratitude and appreciation. To have their work demeaned, disrespected and mischaracterized has been really tough to take.”
After hours of discussion in both open and closed session, alders voted to postpone any further discussion or possible action on next steps regarding the allegations until the next council meeting March 30.
Alders also delayed a vote on a last-minute resolution aimed at supporting the city’s handling of the elections, in anticipation of a finalized report from Vanessa Chavez, city attorney.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Chavez reviewed her preliminary findings, with alders noting no wrongdoing on the part of the city.
“Nothing is coming up that even remotely points to any wrongdoing on the part of the city, much less city employees or even any of our contractors,” Chavez said.
Chavez also clarified the role of city advisor Michael Spitzer-Ruebenstein, which has caused concern.
Spitzer-Ruebenstein served as an advisor to the city during the election in connection with the $1.5 million grant the council accepted last summer from the Center of Tech and Civic Life.
Chavez said Spitzer-Ruebenstein offered to cure ballots for the election, but the city declined the offer, and he served only as an observer on Election Day in November.
“There are a lot of allegations that somehow because he was present, he was taking control, which is not the case,” Chavez said. “I don’t know where those allegations came from. His capacity was at all times as an advisor to the city.
He was providing assistance to the city in the nature of logistical steps, he was helping coordinate, he was running his own data as far as the numbers of the ballots, literally just determining how far behind we were going to be.”
Chavez also nixed reports that Spitzer-Ruebenstein had access to ballots or keys.
“No keys were ever in Mr. Rubenstein’s hands,” she said. “They stayed until Celestine Jeffreys picked them up, (and then) gave them to Finance Director Diane Ellenbecker. Director Ellenbecker maintained those in her control for the remainder that we had access to the KI (Convention Center).”
The resolution was drafted by alders Barbara Dorff, Alder Lynn Gerlach and Kathy Lefebvre in an effort to show support for the handling of the election.
“My colleagues know I do my homework and that I am really interested in establishing a fundamental understanding based on facts on everything we have to vote on,” Gerlach said. “What we have now, months after it all ended, is two diametrically different stories about our elections last year. We have the story of what actually happened. And we have a story that has been admittedly, openly, politically motivated that tells a different story. I know what happened. I am confident in what happened. And I would ask my colleagues to support this resolution, so we can put an end to this finger-pointing, and move forward and get busy on the business of our city.”
Some alders said the resolution was premature.
“Our community needs healing and that doesn’t happen when this body and our community are given 24 hours to respond to a resolution designed to silence those who simply want to ask questions and have them answered,” Johnson said. “My opposition to this resolution does not mean that I believe anything wrong happened, rather it signals my support for a patient process.”
Chavez said she expects to finalize her report within the next two weeks, which will then be made available to the public.