City council votes to hire private attorney for Schmitt petition

Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt (WLUK file image)

GREEN BAY (WLUK) -- Green Bay's city council has voted to hire an outside attorney to advise it on how to deal with a petition asking for Jim Schmitt to be removed as mayor.

That decision was made despite the city attorney telling the council it is her job to provide the council with legal advice.

Schmitt excused himself from Tuesday night's city council meeting just as council members were about to discuss whether to hire a private attorney to deal with his possible removal. Council President Tom DeWane submitted the request because of concerns with City Attorney Vanessa Chavez.

“I think they are too close,” said DeWane. “The mayor is directly her boss and she also works for the council, so I want to make sure there is no conflict of interest.”

Chavez says DeWane should have no worries.

“This is basically what my job is,” said Chavez. “I know there is concern I have a conflict of interest. I don't I have one client and that is the city itself. I don't represent any individual person. I don't represent the mayor.”

Green Bay resident Scott Vanidestine filed the petition asking for the council to vote to remove Schmitt from office. He agrees with DeWane that an outside attorney should help the council with his request.

“She has to work in the mayor's office,” said Vanidestine. “I know how vindictive he can be or how a person could be. I just think it's the right thing.”

Schmitt's defense attorney, Pat Knight, says state law prevents the council from conducting a removal vote because Schmitt's campaign finance convictions had nothing to do with his mayoral duties. Knight warned council members in a letter that a removal vote will lead to legal ramifications.

“I think because that threat is there, it is important that we have an attorney advise us as we go through this,” said Tom Sladek, an alderman.

“She does not feel there is a conflict of interest,” said Barbara Dorff, an alderperson. “She believes that she can handle this situation.”

In a 7-5 vote, the council voted to hire a private attorney. The council president and vice president will lead the hiring process.

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