Damakant Jayshi

After more than a year of discussion and undergoing multiple revisions, a diversity resolution on Tuesday failed to pass when the Marathon County Board of Supervisors deadlocked on the proposal.

The vote on the ‘Community for All’ proposal was evenly split, at 18-18, after more than two hours of debate that witnessed some passionate arguments on both sides of the issue. Because a majority was required for the resolution’s passage or outright rejection, a tie meant the resolution was defeated.

The full Board was debating a weakened version of the diversity resolution – version B – that its Executive committee on Aug. 12 moved forward for full Board consideration. Last week, the full County Board heard from members of the community when it took up the resolution for discussion.

Bruce Lamont and Chris Dickinson, two supervisors who helped finalize the weakened version of the resolution ultimately voted against the measure. Lamont and Dickinson were part of a group of five supervisors who held several meetings to narrow down their differences over the resolution. The other three are Matthew Bootz, who wrote the version that was being discussed on Tuesday, along with William Harris and Yee Leng Xiong.

Harris and Xiong supported version B, though they both preferred version A, which was closest to the original ‘No Place for Hate’ proposal that was first drafted in June last year.

During the discussion, Lamont said he changed his mind on the resolution because of the feedback he received from his constituents. He did not respond to questions about his decision as of press time.

Dickinson said the Diversity Affairs Commission modified the wording of version A slightly, and added that his impression was that “none of us 5 really wanted” version B, either.

“I opposed B and voted no because the resolution would not achieve the unanimous consent I feel such a resolution should have,” Dickinson said in an email, explaining his vote. “If we are going to stand together and make a statement that we are ‘a Community for All’ then it is imperative we all agree on what that means.” 

Supervisor Jeff Johnson, disagreed with Lamont’s comment that the resolution was not necessary.

“It is needed more so now than it was first introduced because…one of the reasons is that we have engendered, and earned, tons of negative press and perception…that we can’t even pass a resolution saying we are a community for all,” Johnson said. He added that not passing the measure would have real-world implications since the 24-45 age group, a coveted workforce that the county is trying to attract, is closely watching the debate on the issue and how the Board votes. He asked the supervisors to ignore the negative comments from their constituents since the resolution was not just about a single district, but a matter for the entire county.

However, Supervisor Arnold Schlei, who opposed the proposal, said he was going to listen to his constituents he represents and said most opposed the measure. He added that the views of constituents are more important than the opinion of the supervisors.

Supervisor Jean Maszk said the resolution was redundant as it was asking the Board to do what the Board has already been doing – welcoming all. She also pointed to an Ethiopian refugee agency that “has chosen our community” for a relocation area as evidence that the county is welcoming.

During previous discussions, one of the most contentious issues was whether to include the word ‘equity’ in the resolution and what the word actually meant. Those supporting its inclusion said the word acknowledges the existing systemic inequality, discrimination and biases that residents have said they experienced, especially those from communities of color. But critics said the word was meant to achieve equality of outcomes, potentially curtailing free speech, causing division in the community. Others viewed the resolution as doing too much or lacking any teeth for any meaningful change – a contradiction pointed out by supporters of the resolution who called out these competing assertions.

Supervisor Xiong, who chairs the Diversity Affairs Commission and supports the diversity resolution, refuted these charges point by point. He also challenged Dickinson’s claims that the commission was considering bringing resolutions on environmental justice, like the one under discussion by the Wausau City Council, and racism as a public health crisis.

“As far as I know, and I am the chair of the commission, I am not aware of any such thing,” Xiong told Wausau Pilot & Review. He also said he was disappointed by the outcome.

Some residents during public comments in the past had even equated the ‘equity’ with Marxist and socialist ideology. In past meetings, a few residents even went further by saying the resolution was going to encourage pedophiles since the term LGBTQ+ included MAP (minor attracted persons).

Supervisor Michelle Van Krey, who supported the resolution, objected to that characterization, saying pedophiles and people attracted to minors are not part of LGBTQ+ community. She also criticized those who said that a ‘yes’ vote on the resolution was a vote of approval for pedophilia.

“It is incredible to me that this statement had to be made,” Krey said, adding she was disgusted that people equated a positive vote for the resolution as a vote supporting pedophilia. “None of us support pedophilia no matter how we vote tonight.”

Although version B of the resolution did not have the word equity, it acknowledges existence of “injustice,” saying injustice against any of the residents was a threat to the well-being of all the residents and unity of the community.

Vice-chair of Marathon County Board, Craig McEwen, said words mattered.

“We should not be telling our community that if we don’t pass this resolution, we are not a welcoming community,” McEwen, who has opposed all versions of the diversity resolution throughout, said. “I don’t believe that for a moment.”

Before the members voted, Chair of the Board, Kurt A. Gibbs, made an impassioned plea to supervisors to rise above division. He said he received about 300 emails since last week, almost evenly split between those supporting and opposing the resolution. He said he was surprised by the misinformation that he found in the responses he received.

“I honestly did not know how I was going to vote tonight on this resolution,” said Gibbs, adding that some of the inaccuracies that he perceived from those emails helped him make up his mind – that he was in favor of the resolution. 

He also responded to fears expressed by some community members that the resolution was a tool for future actions, saying it was the Board that was going to act on any future actions. He urged the supervisors to reread the resolution.

“Vote your conscience,” he said. 

When the members voted, it was a tie.

The resolution might just be revived, though.

Later, Gibbs, responding to his comments in local media, told Wausau Pilot & Review that it was a possibility. “The Robert’s Rule that makes it possibility is called ‘a Motion to Reconsider’,” he said in a statement. “It would be required to be brought forward by someone that voted no at last night’s meeting of resolution. It also would be required to be brought forward at September 2021 meeting.”

Earlier this month members of the Wausau City Council declared the city ‘a community for all,’ capping three months of intense effort from several council members and Mayor Katie Rosenberg.

The 11-member Common Council adopted the renamed ‘We Are Wausau’ resolution by a 9-2 vote. Members Lisa Rasmussen and Dawn Herbst voted against the measure.

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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