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City attorney declines to provide clarity about Schmitt petition

Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt (WLUK file image)

GREEN BAY (WLUK) -- A day after the filing of a petition aiming to remove Mayor Jim Schmitt from office, it’s unclear what could come next.

Green Bay’s city attorney declined to answer questions from FOX 11 about whether the citizen petition has legal standing to proceed with any sort of council action.

The petition, filed by Green Bay resident Scott Vanidestine, lists Schmitt’s three recent misdemeanor campaign finance convictions as reasons Schmitt should be removed from office.

Green Bay city clerk, Kris Teske forwarded the petition to the city attorney’s office for review.

FOX 11 contacted Green Bay City Attorney Vanessa Chavez to see if the petition could lead to the city council taking a vote on whether Schmitt should keep his job.

“The City Attorney may only represent the City of Green Bay as a municipal corporation,” wrote Chavez in an email response. “Lawyers in the office are prohibited from providing any legal advice to any individual person. As a result, an interview would be pointless because there’s nothing I can comment on for you. Sorry.”

Chapter 17 of Wisconsin State Statutes is cited in the petition. Chapter 17 says a common council can remove an elected official for cause. Under the law, cause is defined as inefficiency, neglect of duty, official misconduct, or malfeasance in office.

Vanidestine told FOX 11, he believes the mayor’s position is a 24-hour job, and his campaign finance violations provide cause for a council removal vote.

Patrick Knight, Schmitt’s defense attorney, said in a news conference on Monday that the council has no legal standing to remove Schmitt because his crimes were committed as a candidate, not within his mayoral duties.

“I’m sure anyone who has concerns in that regard, if it’s from a public standpoint, they’ll confer with the city attorney and they’ll hear the same thing,” said Knight.

Despite Knight’s belief, Chavez declined to answer FOX 11’s question about the legality of the petition.

“You will have to speak to a private attorney if you have questions,” wrote Chavez in a follow up email.

Schmitt hired Chavez as city attorney earlier this year. The city council confirmed Schmitt’s appointment of Chavez in March.

FOX 11 contacted the Wisconsin Elections Commission to find out whether the council could proceed with a removal attempt. A spokesperson told FOX 11 the commission does not administer Chapter 17, so it could not comment.

“Your best source would be the city attorney’s office,” wrote Reid Magney, public information officer for the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

The city council’s next meeting is December 20th.

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