Damakant Jayshi

On a day the U.S. Census showed Marathon County growing to be more diverse, the Executive Committee of the county board on Thursday referred a watered-down version of the ‘Community for All’ resolution for the full board’s consideration.

The Executive Committee voted to advance the resolution drafted by three supervisors that replaced the one sent to them by the Board’s Diversity Affairs Commission, a version that is preferred by supervisors of color as well as some white members of the standing committee. The approved weakened proposal does not have the word, ‘equity,’ which has been a point of contention during the months-long debate over the measure.

The development comes two days after the City Council of Wausau approved a much stronger resolution declaring the city ‘a community for all’ by a 9-2 vote. 

The county’s ‘A community for All’ resolution was drafted by DAC in June last year. The original version was called ‘No Place for Hate,’ and was changed after some supervisors suggested revisions to garner broader support in the community and County Board members The proposal has undergone many changes since then. 

The meeting agenda had three versions of the resolution – A/B (that the diversity commission developed after combining versions A and B. William Harris, the first elected Black supervisor of the County Board and supervisor Yee Leng Xiong, a Hmong American, drafted version A after making some more changes to the original draft prepared by the Diversity Affairs Commission. Both Harris (Dist. 3) and Xiong (Dist. 19) have been pushing for the diversity proposal. Version B was prepared by supervisors Matt Bootz (Dist. 13), Bruce Lamont (Dist. 36) and Chris Dickinson (Dist. 29). 

The debate was open to all supervisors, even those who are not members of the Executive Committee. The five supervisors have been discussing how to narrow down the differences over the diversity proposal after a number of supervisors and community members objected to the language and intent of the resolution.

During the debate, Harris, Xiong and Bootz pointed out that they could not agree on the word ‘equity.’ That discussion followed Bootz’s suggestion of replacing the combined A/B version with his draft. 

Some members, including vice chair Craig McEwen, repeated their opposition to the measure, saying they opposed advancing any resolution at all because it divided the community. McEwen (Dist. 18) was among the six members who voted down a similar resolution in May. Supervisor Bill Conway (Dist. 16), who supported the original proposal, pointed out no one was required to support the resolution now and the committee just needed to move the proposal forward.

Bootz agreed, saying some form of the resolution would reach the County Board eventually, regardless of the decision of the Executive Committee.

“To be honest, either way, one of these documents is going to be brought forward to the full board no matter what is decided here today,” he said, adding that version B has the most consensus among the members. He also said supervisors will be able to offer amendments, including adding the word ‘equity’ to the resolution during the full Board’s consideration of the matter. Supervisor John Robinson (Dist. 4), who had supported the original version in May, backed Bootz despite his preference for version A/B. 

“I intend to support version B because I am a political realist.” Robinson said. 

During the vote, Chair of the Executive Committee Kurt Gibbs (Dist. 32) voted in favor of the Bootz amendment as did the supervisors Bootz, Robinson, Tim Buttke (Dist. 33), and Sara Guild (Dist. 20).They also voted to advance the measure to the full board. Supervisors McEwen, Jacob Langenhahn (Dist.35), Jean Maszk (Dist. 24) voted against the amendment as well as the vote to advance it. Supervisor Alyson Leahy (Dist. 11), a member of the Diversity Affairs Commission and a strong supporter of the original resolution, voted against the amendment but voted in favor to advance the measure. 

Earlier, there was a near-even split between the 40 people who spoke at the start of the meeting on Thursday. Supporters said racism in the community is real, and that marginalized populations face significant abuse and discrimination. They said they are baffled by the vehemence of the opposition to a measure focused on embracing diversity and inclusion. Supporters also said there was a lot of deliberate fear-mongering from critics of the proposal. 

Two students who supported the resolution said the adults’ reaction against it made no sense to them.

Those opposed to the measure say the county is already welcoming to everyone, irrespective of their background. They said the resolution is divisive, a distraction and a drain on taxpayers. 

Critics also say the proposal is seeped in Marxist and socialist ideology and part of a larger plan to attack white people. Some among those opposed, however, acknowledge that minorities face abuses but say those who indulge in such practices need to be called out instead of clubbing everyone together. A student who opposed the measure said even white residents face abuses, saying her family is among them.

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.

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