Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich is facing an ethics complaint from a former mayoral candidate alleging the Democrat used his office to send out campaign materials to hundreds of residents.

Genrich, engaged in a tough re-election battle against Brown County administration director Chad Weininger, has also been embroiled in a city hall bugging scandal.

The Wisconsin Daily Star obtained a copy of the complaint, which was filed by Green Bay resident Jane Juza. Juza lost a four-way primary last month that saw the top two candidates — Weininger and Genrich — move on to next Tuesday’s general election.

Juza charges that Genrich violated state law when he “sent his campaign newsletter from his Green Bay Mayor’s Office to greater than 49 recipients [of] his newsletter to recipients’ personal email addresses.”

“As a sitting elected official running for office, he may not use government resources to distribute greater than 49 pieces of like material to different individual recipients,” Juza wrote in the complaint filed with the Wisconsin Ethics Commission, citing state statute on the use of government materials by candidates.

Genrich (pictured above) sent the newsletter on January 23, nearly two months after he declared his candidacy, according to the documents in the complaint.

Juza includes a copy of “Mayor Genrich’s Newsletter.” In it, Genrich notes his monthly e-newsletter serves as a space to “alert” his subscribers to “things that are coming up at City Hall, highlight events in the community, and offer my perspective on the community.”

The newsletter is a standard update on city business from the mayor’s point of view. It doesn’t expressly ask subscribers to vote for him in the upcoming election. But public officials running for office are bound by tight restrictions regarding the use of government resources, particularly during election campaigns.

“…([N]o person elected to state or local office who becomes a candidate for national, state, or local office may use public funds for the cost of materials or distribution for 50 or more pieces of substantially identifiable material distributed after” the “first day authorized by law for the circulation of nomination papers as a candidate.”

In the spring election, that date is in December. Genrich blasted out his email to hundreds of individuals in late January. The Daily Star has confirmed that the newsletter goes out to 656 subscribers, according to Dave Wilquet, the city’s deputy IT director.

David Buerger, staff counsel for the Wisconsin Ethics Commission, said he could not comment. In fact, it’s against the law for anyone from the commission to publicly comment on pending complaints.

But Buerger did respond to Juza.

“This email confirms receipt of your complaint against Mayor Genrich,” Buerger wrote in a March 15 email to Juza. He added that, upon review, the complaint is “sufficient to proceed to consideration by the commission.”

Genrich’s campaign did not return a request seeking comment. Weininger also did not respond.

The mayoral race is arguably one of the more heated and watched local races of the spring election.

Both candidates have said they’ve received threatening messages. Last week, Genrich tweeted a photo of a letter he received that said, “PROTECT YOUR FAMILY.” On the same day, Weininger, released a text he received declaring “I’ll find your family and kill them all.”

“There is no place in political discourse that should include threats of any kind,” Weininger said in a news release accompanying the text.

Meanwhile, Genrich and other city officials face a lawsuit after installing audio recording devices in city hall without informing City Council members 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.

The State Senate filed a lawsuit against the city alleging use of the audio recording equipment to monitor conversations is a violation of the Wisconsin Electronic Surveillance Control Law. A Brown County judge earlier this month issued a temporary injunction demanding the city shut down the bugs while the lawsuit proceeds.

Green Bay City Council members then voted to ban audio recording devices in city hall. Exceptions include police officer body cams.

Genrich and other city officials insist they were within their constitutional rights to install the microphones. They say they did so after some city employees received some verbal threats.

Green Bay-area lawmakers recently introduced a bill creating clear requirements for government officials to collect audio recordings.

The measure, authored by State Representative David Steffen (R-Howard) and State Senator Eric Wimberger (R-Green Bay), would establish “stringent requirements” should local or state government officials feel the need to audio record in public buildings.

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M.D. Kittle is the National Political Editor for The Star News Network.
Photo “Eric Genrich” by Mich PoliSci. CC BY-SA 2.0. Background Photo “Brown County Court House” by DavidFarmbrough. CC BY-SA 3.0.