Damakant Jayshi

Amid strong support from community members and stiff opposition from some city-based businesses, the Common Council on Tuesday voted to send the resolution supporting Environmental Justice to a Committee of the Whole.

The referral vote was 9-2. Alders Tom Kilian and Lou Larson, who support the resolution, voted against the motion to refer the matter to the Committee of the Whole of the 11-member council.

The motion to seek more time was initially suggested by Alder Tom Neal from Dist. 4. Neal said he supports the resolution in spirit but wanted it to be clear and concise and tailored to meet the needs of Wausau. His motion was backed by Alder Lisa Rasmussen, who represents Dist. 7, but she said the measure must go back to the committee it came from – the Public Health and Safety Committee – which she chairs. Rasmussen opposes the proposal.

Alder Pat Peckham, instead, suggested the resolution should not be left to the decision of any single city committee given the importance of the proposal.

“It is a big enough deal for a large enough segment of our community,” Peckham said, explaining his reason for seeking more time to discuss the proposal even though he was in favor of passage. “We should take some time and sit down with all parties and try to hash this out.”

Peckham added that moving the proposal to the Committee of the Whole would ensure a freewheeling discussion and allow input from community members.

“Let’s make sure that everybody is on board and concerns have been addressed,” he said.

Kilian, who had first proposed the Environmental Justice resolution, said that statements in the proposal that prompted early concerns had been removed and that the language was tailored heavily to Wausau.

“The resolution shouldn’t be tabled,” Kilian said. “Let’s get down to business.”

Kilian represents Dist. 3, which includes a neighborhood that has experienced significant environmental impacts from decades of manufacturing activity in the area. The district also represents a larger than average share of lower-income residents.

Last week, the Wausau Chamber opposed the proposed Environmental Justice resolution. Kilian criticized the Chamber’s opposition during this week’s meeting.

“Taking environmental advice from the Chamber of Commerce is like taking drug rehabilitation advice from a crack dealer,” he said. “It is simply not the source of guidance that we would like.”

He also challenged the notion that the Chamber was representing all businesses in Wausau. 

David Eckmann, President and CEO of Greater Wausau Chamber of Commerce, spoke during the public comments phase of the Common Council meeting. He said the resolution in its current form would negatively impact business growth, was based on political factors and could be used to stifle economic growth.

Greater Wausau Chamber CEO Dave Eckmann speaks during an August City Council meeting.

Similarly, Mario Diaz, 3M Wausau’s Plant Director and Mike Tomsyck, speaking on behalf of Kolbe & Kolbe Millwork Co., spoke in opposition to the environmental resolution.

Diaz also threatened to rethink the company’s operation in the city should the resolution pass. The corporation, which has been operating since 1929 in Wausau, employs about 150 people in in the city. 

But a majority of the people, including small business owners, who spoke or submitted written comments to the council overwhelmingly support the resolution and request the Common Council pass it.

“It has come to my attention that the Chamber of Commerce opposes this resolution,” Tenzin Botsford of Red Family Farm wrote to the council. “As a small business owner primarily serving the Wausau area, I am disappointed to hear that, for two reasons. Firstly, this resolution does not create any ordinance…and as such should not be of concern. Second, and more importantly, this resolution does provide a guiding principle to keep our governance focused on shared long-term goals such as enhancing our thriving community in ways that will last for our children, and grandchildren.”

Terry Kilian, co-spokesperson for Citizens for Clean Wausau (CCW), asked how the Environmental Justice resolution could be negative for Wausau when multiple federal, state and local organizations support the sentiments included in the proposal. She also referred to “false allegations and rumors brought against CCW.” 

Terry Kilian was referring to Rasmussen, who accused CCW and fellow Alder Tom Kilian of working to bring a class action lawsuit against the city on the basis of the resolution once it passed. CCW issued a statement refuting those allegations.

In emails exchanged between Rasmussen and Assistant City Attorney Tara Alfonso obtained by Wausau Pilot & Review in an open records request, Rasmussen accused Mayor Katie Rosenberg and some council members of “committee-shopping” in order to find a favorable environment for the resolution. Rasmussen does not support the measure.

A date for the Committee of the Whole discussion has not yet been set.

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.