Green Bay Mayor James Schmitt and City Attorney Vanessa Chavez are using the city’s official Facebook page to defend themselves against allegations of wrongdoing by five aldermen but are not letting the alders use the page to issue a statement of their own, according to one of the five. The City of Green Bay’s Facebook page currently has posted on it a document titled “Misrepresentations and Misunderstandings by Council Members.” It’s a response to a complaint the five alders have submitted to the Brown County District Attorney’s alleging potential criminal wrongdoing by Schmitt and Chavez in connection with the stalled Hotel Northland project.
The five claim, among other things, that Schmitt and Chavez attempted to by developer Mike Frantz out of the deal with a $500,000 loan to be taken out by the city of Green Bay and misrepresented the purpose of the loan to the Redevelopment Authority and the City Council. Schmitt has claimed repeatedly that the loan was intended to keep the project afloat. Frantz has twice told Media Trackers and the Jerry Bader radio show that Schmitt’s and Chavez’s claims are false; that the loan was indeed intended to buy him out of the project in two $250,000 installments. Court documents also indicate the loan was intended to buy out Frantz.
Frantz says emails and court documents support his claims and says Schmitt and Chavez were involved in the effort and that he was approached by the city with the proposal. Despite all of that, Schmitt and Chavez insist the accusations are nothing more than unsubstantiated claims from a quintet of obstructionist aldermen. And they have used the city’s web page and Facebook page to make that claim, without affording their accusers use of the same platforms, according to one of the five, Alderman Chris Wery.
Wery says city’s statement of defense has been taken down from its web page but remains at its Facebook page, along with a defense from Chavez:
I am disheartened by the inaccurate and malicious statements made by Ald. Zima during the press conference he called today regarding the Hotel Northland. In it, he accused not only the Mayor of wrongdoing, but also me and Dr. Kevin Vonck. These issues have been vetted in public for the last 10 months, and at no time has Alder Zima taken the opportunity to discuss any of these issues directly with me. We have been forthcoming throughout this entire process, and have answered all questions by alders when asked. To put it simply, we did not offer money to settle the private dispute between Mr. Harenda and Mr. Frantz. Claiming that we did is an absurd spin on the situation. We were asked to mediate a quickly deteriorating partnership, and in doing so, were asked to support a request to the Council and RDA for certain funds. We made clear that RDA and Council approvals were necessary, and that any contribution by the City could only be used for the Hotel Northland project. In addition, the Alder alleges that the City caused the defaults with Huntington Bank by going outside the disbursement agreement. This is patently false. The City distributed the funds with the consent of all the lenders, including Huntington, and the Borrower defaulted, not the City. The implications that City officials misused City funds or somehow acted inappropriately with City finances is untenable. While I have yet to receive a copy of the complaint, I look forward to cooperating with any investigation in this matter so that we may put these allegations to bed once and for all.
But Frantz, the developer previously involved in the project, told Media Trackers that all the allegations are essentially true and he says court documents and emails verify as much. Yet Wery says he and the other four aldermen have not been allowed to use the city’s Facebook page to post a response to the defenses of Schmitt and Chavez. And on Wednesday he complained to Chavez:
I noticed the press releases were taken off the city website, however they still remain on the city’s facebook page…
Does this mean that the facebook page will also be available to aldermen for ‘press releases’?
I am hoping this was an oversight and the posts will be taken down post-haste.
Wery told Media Trackers that he finds Schmitt’s and Chavez’s denials inexplicable:
It’s dumbfounding. It’s astounding. When you can have court documents and people directly involved all showing exactly what happened, and someone else states something as the exact opposite, I don’t know. Maybe in his(Schmitt’s) mind it didn’t happen. But factually you can’t dispute it. I think what we’re interested in is does it rise to the level of breaking the law, or is it something that is extremely unethical. That’s why we asked the D.A. to look at it.
It’s unclear whether District Attorney David Lasee will open a criminal investigation into the alder’s allegations. The five provided Lasee’s office with a stack of documents they say substantiate their claims. As of Thursday night, the statements defending Schmitt and Chavez remained on the City of Green Bay Facebook page.