By Shereen Siewert

Marathon County’s Executive Committee on Thursday will once again revisit a diversity-focused resolution that has been met with stiff resistance from some conservatives.

The “A Community for All” resolution has been under consideration for months and would declare Marathon County an “open, inclusive, and diverse place to live and work.” The resolution, under consideration since January, has widespread support from local nonprofits including the United Way of Marathon County and The Women’s Community, but has faced strong criticism from conservative members of the Marathon County Board of Supervisors and the Republican Party of Marathon County.

During an April 22 town hall meeting held to discuss the resolution, Republican Party of Marathon County Chair Jack Hoogendyk referred to the resolution as Marxist “critical race theory” that threatens individual rights and freedom of speech. In an email sent last week, Hoogendyk urged party members to show up for Thursday’s meeting en masse to protest the resolution.

“And while you are at it, you may also want to ask why the county board is wasting their time on such resolutions as ‘A Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls’ in Marathon County, and a ‘Resolution Recognizing the Historical Significance of the Mexican holiday of Cinco de Mayo,'” Hoogendyk’s email reads.

Yee Leng Xiong, chair of the county’s Diversity Commission, said recognizing diversity is a strength, not a waste of the board’s time. Recognizing diversity, Xiong said, creates a sense of credibility and helps create an environment where people from different communities can openly celebrate their culture and their heritage.

“To the many individuals who already have their heritage, their occupations, their culture celebrated, resolutions are pointless,” Xiong said. “But to a population or a community that has been ignored for many years, this means the world to them. It means that their community loves them, acknowledges them, and welcomes them.”

Marathon County Administrator Lance Leonhard said the county’s central goal, from a government perspective, is to be the healthiest, safest and most prosperous county in Wisconsin and make our communities a preferred place to live, work, visit and do business. 

“In carrying out our work we are guided by our core values, one of which is our commitment to diversity,” Leonhard said. “Actively welcoming and valuing people with different perspectives and experiences is central to our strategy to our organizational and community goals.”

But Hoogendyk, in a March email to Wausau Pilot & Review, said he objects to some of the language in the declaration and believes Wausau is already a diverse, inclusive community. Specifically, Hoogendyk said, he objects to the use of the word “equity” because the word suggests equal outcomes – goal he said is unattainable because of the choices people make.

“To try to create an environment where everyone is assured of the same outcome will only create bitterness,” Hoogendyk said. “Those who are high achievers will only hate those who are less motivated.  The under-achievers may then demand “equity” from those who are more motivated.”

The resolution is not the only one to have drawn criticism and controversy in Marathon County. In February, a resolution to recognized Black History Month passed, but 12 of 38 board members voted against the measure. And in 2019, a “Pride Month” resolution recognizing the rights of all citizens in Marathon County regardless of age, gender identity, race, color, religion, marital status, national origin, sexual orientation, or physical challenges sparked dozens of letters to the editor and thousands of comments on social media, both for and against the declaration. The resolution passed by a vote of 20-15.

The Marathon County Executive Committee meets at 4:30 p.m. Thursday at the Marathon County Courthouse, 500 Forest St., Wausau. The resolution is also subject to full board approval. Find details on how to attend and the full draft of the resolution here.