WAUSAU — Five Wausau residents, including two Marathon County Board members and the Marathon County administrator, took to the Wausau City Council podium Tuesday to express their support for council member Mary Thao, after accusations surfaced last month of bullying and racism in closed session meetings.
Thao, who is Wausau’s first female Hmong-American member of the city council, came forward in October to publicly state she has been subject to bullying, racism and acts of aggression since being elected earlier this year.
The accusations surfaced after an August situation in which Thao called for a roll call vote in closed session but was told she could not do so. That incident resulted in a flurry of activity that included a private meeting between Thao, City Clerk Toni Rayala, City Attorney Anne Jacobson Mayor Robert Mielke, and Council President Lisa Rasmussen.
Wausau Pilot and Review Publisher Shereen Siewert sat in on the meeting at Thao’s request and later reported on the story when the group failed to reach a resolution to the issue.
Thao’s concerns prompted strong reaction within the Hmong community and beyond. During the public comment period of Tuesday’s meeting, Marathon County Administrator Brad Karger reminded council members that having a Hmong leader as part of the group should be considered a strong asset.
Karger urged the council to invest in an unbiased mediator to promote honest conversation and an eventual resolution to the conflict.
“If you choose to do nothing and Mary resigns, where does that leave us?” Karger asked the council.
Since October, Thao has been calling for leadership training for council members and key staffers, training she believes is crucial to ensuring all Wausau residents are represented fairly and all future council members are treated with respect. Mielke said no such training is necessary.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Thao called for Mayor Robert Mielke, Council President Lisa Rasmussen and the entire council to review closed session procedures.
“I regret to inform you that I will not be joining you in closed session meetings moving forward,” Thao said.