As promised, the Wisconsin State Senate has filed a lawsuit against the city of Green Bay and its mayor alleging the installation of secret recording devices installed at city hall is a violation of the Wisconsin Electronic Surveillance Control Law.
The complaint, filed in Brown County Circuit Court, seeks an emergency temporary injunction and a court order requiring the defendants immediately disable the recording devices. It also would prohibit the defendants from accessing or disseminating any audio recordings obtained from devices installed in the building.
Plaintiffs include Green Bay-area State Senator Andre Jacque (R-De Pere), former City Council member Anthony Theisen, and an anonymous female complainant. They claim to be among the many who have had private conversations in the hallways of city hall “since the mayor secretly installed these audio surveillance devices,” the lawsuit states.
In his affidavit, Jacque asserts his concerns that, unbeknownst to him, his private conversation in city hall was “quite possibly audio surveilled and recorded by the City.”
“To my knowledge, the conversation or conversations did not occur within the hearing distance of any other person (aside from my interlocutor) physically present in the hallway,” the affidavit states, “The conversation or conversations quite possibly occurred within the range of the City’s secret listening devices.”
Ryan Walsh, with the Eimer Stahl law firm, sent a letter to Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich late Friday after city officials all but ignored a earlier warning letter demanding they remove the three recording devices. Walsh advised the city to “take reasonable steps to preserve and retain all documents, materials, and other tangible evidence, including any electronically stored information (“ESI”), possibly relevant to an impending suit.”
As The Wisconsin Daily Star first reported, Green Bay city officials have installed at least three audio recording devices in City Hall — without notifying the City Council or the public.
Records obtained by The Daily Star show the audio equipment was installed last year — two devices on the second floor outside the council chamber and the mayor’s office, and one on the first floor outside the clerk’s office.
Genrich and the city’s legal department have defended the use of the listening devices, asserting they were installed after city staff were involved in threatening interactions with citizens. They claim use of the monitoring equipment is legal because they are located in public spaces.
The Senate’s demand letter sent last week and the latest letter alerting the city to the pending lawsuit note the “hallway bugs” are placed in areas where members of the public, including attorneys and their clients, retreat to discuss matters discreetly. They do indeed, under the law, have an expectation of privacy in these spaces, Walsh advises.
In its response to the Senate’s demand the city remove the devices and provide assurances it has destroyed all recordings by 5 p.m. last Friday, Green Bay’s Chief of Operations Joseph Faulds issued a statement asserting the city will continue its audio surveillance, but it will provide notice about the recording devices.
City Attorney Joanne Bungert did not return an email seeking comment.
It’s not clear whether Genrich took the action unilaterally or with the support of selected staff members. City officials have changed their story multiple times since revelations of the surveillance first broke, the plaintiffs’ brief in support of the emergency injunction states. But Genrich never “informed the Common Council of his decision or sought its approval for this shocking invasion of privacy.”
“Nor did he alert the public to the fact that private conversations in the hallways of City Hall would now be intercepted, recorded, and potentially reviewed by the Mayor, the Green Bay Police Department, and the City’s legal department,” the court document states.
Some are concerned that Genrich, a highly partisan Democrat, is monitoring his political enemies.
The mayor was a central figure in the Zuckerbucks controversy in which Wisconsin’s five largest cities took in millions of dollars in so-called “safe election” grants from liberal groups funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. An investigation by Wisconsin Spotlight showed the 2020 grant funding from the Chicago-based Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL) came with long-time Democratic Party operatives and liberal activists intricately involved in the administration of the 2020 presidential election in Milwaukee, Madison, Kenosha, Racine, and Green Bay.
In Green Bay, an operative was found to have the keys to the room holding the boxes of absentee ballots and had offered to work with elections officials to “cure” or correct absentee ballots with missing information. Green Bay’s city clerk at the time resigned, citing election integrity concerns about the activists and mayor’s office.
CTCL handed out hundreds of millions of dollars in Zuckerberg funded grants, with the brunt of the money going to Democrat-led cities in battleground 2020 states.
Green Bay’s City Clerk Celestine Jeffreys, who was Genrich’s top aide at the time of the 2020 election scandal, has had what many describe as a confrontational relationship with Republican Party election observers. She has been accused of locking out observers from monitoring ballot counts.
“The Mayor’s decision to bug City Hall thus violates numerous laws and constitutional provisions that protect the public against such intrusive government surveillance,” the lawsuit alleges. “And to the extent that the City’s recent policy of snooping on its citizens has now been publicly disclosed, it unconstitutionally chills core protected speech.”
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M.D. Kittle is the National Political Editor for The Star News Network.
Photo “State Senator Andre Jacque” by State Senator Andre Jacque. Background Photo “Green Bay City Hall” by Green Bay.