Alderwoman asks DA to investigate open meetings violation by Green Bay aldermen

GREEN BAY, Wis. - Green Bay alderwoman Barbara Dorff is asking the Brown County district attorney to investigate whether or not five aldermen violated the Wisconsin open meetings law by working together behind-the-scenes to accuse Mayor Jim Schmitt of mishandling Hotel Northland finances.

Dorff says the five aldermen created a walking quorum, which is when people within a government get together outside of a public meeting and come to an agreement.

The five aldermen accused of the walking quorum are the ones who held a news conference on Monday, announcing that they had asked the DA to review a complaint they put together of what they say is Mayor Jim Schmitt mishandling millions of dollars with the Hotel Northland project.

They specifically accused Schmitt of funneling more than $3.2 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to the Hotel Northland owner, Keith Harenda, when it was meant to go to the senior lender on the project, Huntington Bank.

The aldermen also accuse the mayor of requesting $500,000 from the Redevelopment Authority to help Keith Harenda buy out his former hotel co-owner, Mike Frantz, which they say was masked as a bridge loan to help keep the project going. City Council had voted against the bridge loan earlier this year.

Mayor Schmitt says the allegations are all false.

Those five aldermen are Guy Zima, Chris Wery, Andy Nicholson, Tom De Wane, and Mark Steuer.

Dorff says two additional aldermen, David Nennig and John Vanderleest, may also be a part of the walking quorum.

At the news conference on Monday, Local 5 asked Zima if City Council was aware of the allegations they were making.

"Uh, I've spoken with a couple of the others, Mr. Nennig, he's very clear-minded about it, Mr. Sladick, I made him aware of it.," Zima said. "You know, there's three or four on the council that you just can't waste your time with. They are 100% of the time in the pocket of, their pocket votes for the mayor. And they're always running the interference for him. I don't know why, but they do. But I think the rest of the council is aware."

Alderwoman Dorff says it's a clear violation of the Wisconsin open meetings law.

"Because I really was questioning whether a walking quorum was obtained by these alders all talking together outside of city council, so I did a little research into it," Dorff said. "I got a copy of the entire press conference so that I could watch every bit of it, and as a result I felt compelled to file a complaint at the DA's office."

In her complaint to the DA, Dorff also said the aldermen may have stepped out of their range of authority when they named city employees, city attorney Vanessa Chavez and city economic development director Kevin Vonck, and accused them of wrongdoing along with the mayor. Chavez and Vonck said the allegations are false.

"The point is I want this kind of activity to stop," Dorff said. "It is not appropriate, it's definitely not transparent, and while they talked about transparency at the press conference they were not transparent in that I, and a number of other alders, did not even know that this was happening."

Dorff says the fine for an open meetings violation ranges between $25 to $300.

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