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Green Bay election controversy heats up

By Heather Graves

GREEN BAY – The controversy surrounding Green Bay’s running of elections boiled over at the Tuesday, March 1, City Council meeting.

The Council Chambers were packed, and comments often got heated as the item up for discussion once again was the city’s handling of elections – with the focus on the most recent Feb. 15 primary.

A series of proposals put forward by District 8 Alderperson Chris Wery, in an effort he described as an attempt to restore and ensure fair elections made their way to the full board via the Protection and Policy Committee.

Comments from the public – both in-person and virtually – lasted nearly two hours, with residents from both sides voicing their concerns.

“The right to vote is so important,” Eric Kuzma said. “We should be expanding accessibility to voting.”

Resident Janet Angus said she sees the problems with the Feb. 15 primary as being a very unfortunate situation for the City of Green Bay.

“When you give notice to the public, that they have the right to show up and to observe,” Angus said, “that’s our ballot box. That’s the most important thing, the right to vote.”

Discussion from the council nearly matched it, with the final vote on election-related agenda items not coming until well after 11 p.m.

The only decisions made by council members Tuesday night included referring items to staff, or placing items on file.

Items referred to staff include:

• An affirmation from staff in writing that the City of Green Bay’s tabulators have no modems or internet connectivity.

• To have staff review the absentee ballot certificates process.

• To have staff research parameters of accepting outside grant money, with the potential of creating an ordinance.

All items will return to committee for further discussion before returning to the Common Council for any potential vote.

District 10 Alderperson Mark Steuer called the continued finger-pointing is “very tiring.”

“There were mistakes that were made over these last three elections,” Steuer said. “Minor, some. Some others maybe not so much… Let’s work together. There is a lot of finger-pointing going on and it’s very tiring… I would really appeal to both sides – let’s try to work this out. A lot of this is going back to committee. We will try our darndest to do the right thing.“

In what he said was in the interest of transparency and accountability, Wery made a motion to have the council “publicly disapprove of how the February 2022 spring primary was handled by City Clerk Celestine Jeffreys – in references of posting of legal notices, subsequent decisions to count ballots in contradiction of those notices and erroneous public statements made to the Wisconsin Elections Commission.” 

Some raised concerns with the motion describing it as a “public censure.”

District 3 Alderperson Lynn Gerlach said she shared Wery’s concerns of the mistakes made in recent elections, but wasn’t comfortable with, and didn’t believe the council as a whole was either with his motion.

“I wonder if Alder Wery would be comfortable instead asking the clerk to provide for us a careful study of exactly what went wrong in this election, and exactly what she’s going to do to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” she said.

Wery responded, “After we vote on my motion, that would be an excellent thing to bring up.”

However, he ultimately rescinded his motion after concerns were raised that it potentially violated City Council’s Code of Conduct.

There were also calls from the public for the immediate resignations of Mayor Eric Genrich, Jeffreys and the mayor’s chief of staff, Amaad Rivera-Wagner, which were met with applause.

Others praised Green Bay city staff for administering fair and safe elections in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think some really useful suggestions were made by folks on both sides,” District 9 Alderperson Brian Johnson said. “Oftentimes, in situations like this, there is the old saying, ‘My truth, your truth and there is the truth in between. I think reality is a lot of mistakes have been made, and I think unfortunately because of the circumstance, some of them have perhaps been overblown, and some of them could have been addressed a little differently and more strategically. But at the end of the day, something I heard loud and clear that came through from everybody, and that’s the fundamental right to vote is so critically important to our democracy, and I couldn’t agree more. I think that is something we need to work to protect, and interestingly I think that is what both sides of this conversation are trying to do.”

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