Editor’s note: This version includes comments from Board Chair Kurt Gibbs that were received after the story’s initial publication.
At the beginning of the Marathon County Board meeting on Thursday four community members again pressed the body to pass the much-debated “Community for All” resolution, a measure that has drawn sharp opposition from some conservative groups.
The last speaker during the public comments phase of the meeting, Amie Leonoff, expressed her “grave disappointment in the failure of leadership shown by this Board with regard to community for all.”
“I could not believe that yet again some portion of this board decided to punt on this issue,” Leonoff added, referring to members of the Board who have blocked the resolution from appearing on the agenda.
The lone voice speaking out from the community against the resolution, Christopher Wood, said there is “so much diversity here” already. Wood said that passing the resolution, which he said is “just words,” would have “unintended consequences.” He said the county is already a community for all.
Public comment was allowed on the matter though the diversity resolution was not on the agenda for Thursday’s meeting. During a joint meeting of the Executive Committee and Human Resources, Finance and Property Committee on July 15, seven people from the community spoke in favor of the resolution, according to the meeting packet. There is no mention of anyone opposing the measure.
Two Board supervisors who support the proposal and have been pushing for a vote on a revised measure planned to bring it to the Board’s consideration on Thursday. However, Chair of the Board, Kurt Gibbs, scuttled that effort, citing a ruling from the county’s Corporation Counsel’s office.
“I was very disappointed when Chair Gibbs told me that we couldn’t bring the resolution to the Board,” Yee Leng Xiong, Supervisor for Dist. 19 told Wausau Pilot & Review. “But I respect the decision and now we will bring the resolution in August.”
Gibbs, who voted against the resolution during an executive committee meeting in May, told Xiong that he and Supervisor William Harris of Dist. 3 couldn’t bring it because Deputy Corporate Counsel, Michael Puerner, said an amended resolution had to go through a specific process – including undergoing deliberations at relevant committees – all over again. Xiong said the “last minute” determination took them by surprise.
Gibbs, in a response to Wausau Pilot & Review after this story initially published, said he was upholding Board rules, which are approved at the beginning of the term of office by the full board.
“It is my responsibility to apply those rules equally and fairly,” Gibbs wrote. “Those rules speak to process, to provide the Board and the Public with the most transparent and accountable process. One of the rules requires any item must be reviewed by a standing committee prior to going to the full board for its consideration. Another of the rules requires that any agenda item (resolution) be posted in the packet by Friday prior to the Committee or Board meeting so it is reviewable by the Supervisors and or the Public prior to the meeting. This rule helps ensure transparency to the public. From time to time during the term of office I am in a position that I need to insure that I am applying the rules correctly. That is what happened in this situation.”
Harris made changes to the proposal, first prepared by the county’s Diversity Affairs Commission, after a number of Board members and a section of the community objected to some of the content. He declined to comment on the decision to punt on the diversity-focused resolution but pointed out that “the support for the resolution is growing in the community and we can see more and more yard signs supporting it coming up.”
Harris and Xiong had planned to bring the diversity-focused resolution previously in June but the plan was shelved. At that time, Harris said, they held off because the agenda was already crowded and there was no time to discuss the proposal.
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 email@example.com.