Open records reveal mayor’s staff involved in Catholic campaign

City of Green Bay staff solicit pope on city time

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City of Green Bay emails and documents requested by the Freedom From Religion Foundation reveal that Mayor Jim Schmitt and his staff have planned and coordinated a campaign to bring the pope to Green Bay on city time.

FFRF objected in March to Mayor Schmitt’s invitation to the pope to “make a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help,” which was sent by Schmitt in his capacity as mayor using city letterhead. FFRF subsequently requested public records concerning city involvement in the papal campaign and recently received those records.

Emails reveal that the mayor and the mayor’s chief of staff, Andy Rosendahl, planned and coordinated the “Pope to Green Bay Initiative” and organized committee meetings throughout the workday. Emails by city staff show it planned and scheduled weekly “Pope to Green Bay Committee” meetings (dubbed “the Pope Mobile Committee” by the mayor), reviewed wording on the popetogreenbay.com website, and created meeting agendas.

On Friday, March 7 at 2:30 p.m., the mayor, using his official email, reported his “very productive and positive meeting with Bishop Ricken” who “sees this as a true community partnership. He is in full support and gave us his ‘blessings’ . . . He has committed that the Diocese will be part of the committee. . .” The mayor signed his email, “Believe. Pray. Act. Mayor Schmitt.”

The City of Green Bay Personal Policy Chapter 24.4 requires: “Employees must maintain a distinction between sharing personal and official City views,” and requires disclaimers for personal views and opinions, which were not employed by the mayor or his staff.

 “Green Bay taxpayers entrust city employees to conduct government business on paid time — not the personal religious mission of the mayor. Just as paid staff time may not be used for campaign activity, it is equally inappropriate and unseemly to promote Catholicism and this religious pilgrimage on city time, in violation of the U.S. and Wisconsin Constitutions,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF Co-President.

FFRF says the mayor and city staff must cease working on the papal visit during city time using city property, and follow disclaimer policy.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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