Damakant Jayshi

Marathon County’s Diversity Affairs Commission will form small groups with the help of outside institutions to discuss the ‘Community for All’ resolution that has attracted severe backlash from a number of community members.

One of institutions that could help with the effort is the Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service (WIPPS). 

Chairperson of the Diversity Affairs Commission Yee Leng Xiong, who is a Dist. 19 supervisor on the County Board, said he would discuss the possibility of forming small groups with commission members and move forward based on those discussions. Xiong later told Wausau Pilot & Review that a decision on when those groups would be formed and meet has not yet been made. 

During Wednesday’s Commission meeting, Xiong apprised the attendees that he and another supervisor, William Harris (Dist. 3), are in talks with supervisors Chris Dickinson (Dist. 29), Bruce Lamont (Dist. 36) and Mattew Bootz (Dist. 13) to narrow down the differences over the resolution. Xiong said the supervisors have had three meetings already this month and they are meeting again next week. Xiong and Harris have worked together on the resolution to make changes given the backlash. Dickinson, Lamont and Bootz have opposed the measure. 

Xiong also said that while county rules allow any two supervisors to bring the measure forward to the Board of Supervisors for consideration, he was hopeful of striking a compromise. He said the goal was to have the Board of Supervisors vote on the resolution in July while simultaneously holding discussions.

Elected members in the Marathon County and City of Wausau have clashed over language, content and intent of the resolution, with those supporting it terming it essential while those opposed to it saying it is divisive and unnecessary. The opponents also feel the resolution is targeted against white people and paints them as racists, a charge denied by those pushing the measure.

An Executive Committee of Marathon County voted down the proposal on May 13. On the city side, its Common Council referred the matter back to the Economic Development Committee.

At the start of the Diversity Affairs Commission meeting, James Juedes, a dairy farmer who vehemently opposes the resolution, accused the body of bias and stoking division. He also accused them of being racists and denied any discrimination against minorities.

Some others who spoke during the meeting agreed with Juedes, saying they were not aware of any discrimination against the minorities. This was countered by DAC member, Lisa Ort-Sondergard, who said she would “call bunk on everyone” who says there’s no discrimination against the minorities in the county.

Last year, Wausau Police Chief Ben Bliven said racism exists in the city. 

Racism exists here,” Bliven said, in a video posted to Facebook. “It flourishes when it goes unaddressed. Please join us in speaking out against racism. Please join us in listening and learning from our neighbors who are persons of color. Seek to understand their perspective which is formed from unique experiences.”

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 damakant@wausaupilotandreview.com.