By Damakant Jayshi
The future of Wausau’s Liberation and Freedom Committee (LFC) in its current form is uncertain, with some members of the City Council opposed to the group’s goals and functions.
“The duties and responsibilities (of the Liberation and Freedom Committee) are not clear,” Mayor Katie Rosenberg told Wausau Pilot & Review, in response to questions about the committee’s future. “We’ve been running into issues of what this committee’s actual purpose is. We do need to hone in on those duties because the expectations from the council appear to be different from the expectations of the committee.”
The committee was formed in 2019 by then-Mayor Robert Mielke and was immediately met by criticism. Former Council Member Mary Thao in 2019 questioned the need to create yet another commission in Wausau when significant efforts were already underway that Wausau officials could choose to participate in. Despite being the only non-white member of the Wausau City Council when the committee was formed, Thao was not the council member chosen for the group.
Then-Council President Lisa Rasmussen, in April 2019, said the committee was meant to be a “think tank of sorts” that can help the city in its efforts to be more inclusive and welcoming and said members could help provide a positive influence and point of view for city officials in their decision-making processes.
The current mission of the Liberation and Freedom Committee is to “promote an environment that accepts, celebrates and appreciates diversity within the community by proactively identifying areas of discrimination, providing education, communication, and recommendations to the city council and mayor of the city of Wausau,” according to city documents.
But the “Community For All” resolution for Wausau, which some members of this committee have been pushing for, met with fierce resistance from some members of the Common Council this month, despite the resolution appearing on a consent agenda for approval. During a meeting earlier this month the full council sent the matter back to the Economic Development Committee for further review. Opponents of the proposal describe the measure as both divisive and unnecessary.
Meanwhile, the Chair of the Liberation and Freedom Committee, Blake Opal-Wahoske, resigned from the committee citing time constraints. Opal-Wahoske, who also serves as executive director of Wausau River District, Inc., did not respond to any further questions from Wausau Pilot & Review.
Two additional members, Shannon Thomas and Chris Norfleet, resigned from the committee between September and February. The reasons for their resignation are not clear.
The LFC last met on March 8. Since then, Mayor Rosenberg declared Wausau ‘a community for all’ through a proclamation on May 18, five days after the Executive Committee of Marathon County voted down a similar measure, a move that attracted national spotlight.
It was not immediately clear whether any of these developments influenced Opal-Wahoske’s decision to resign.
When asked why the LFC has not met since March 8, Rosenberg said the staff member who worked on the committee’s agendas, minutes, and reports retired in April.
The next meeting of the committee will likely be a joint one with the Diversity Affairs Commission of Marathon County. Their meeting on June 15 was cancelled and has not been rescheduled.
“The committee will need to elect a new chair and then city staff will work with that chair on scheduling the next meeting,” Rosenberg said.
Damakant Jayshi is a reporter for Wausau Pilot & Review. He is also a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of GroundTruth Project that places journalists into local newsrooms. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.