Damakant Jayshi

The Wausau City Council on Tuesday reintroduced an option allowing members of the council and various committees, both elected and nominated, to participate virtually until April 19 – when newly elected alders take office.

Eight of the council members who were present Tuesday also reintroduced a virtual option allowing members of the public to participate by phone, to monitor meetings and offer preregistered public comments. The virtual participation option will also meet the quorum requirement of a meeting.  

Those who wish to participate in person can continue to do so.

Dist. 6 Alderwoman Becky McElhaney called the move necessary in light of the explosion of the COVID-19 cases due to its latest variant, Omicron, and given that some council members are vulnerable to the virus due to weakened immunity. McElhaney, who is also council president, said Dist. 1 Alderman Pat Peckham asked her to consider the option since he could not attend the meetings in person. Peckham is battling cancer.

McElhaney added that Peckham, who is not seeking reelection in April, was concerned his residents would not be represented if he could not attend. The council president also said she wanted the new provision to have a narrow scope and a sunset date for allowing participation by Webex or phone.

Dist. 7 Alderwoman Lisa Rasmussen suggested adding a sunset provision to ensure the resolution remains in force only until a new council is sworn in. The newly elected body can then decide whether to continue with the option or discard it.

The virtual public participation option also will last until April 19. 

During the discussion over this resolution, Alderperson Sarah Watson suggested allowing the public to offer comments virtually “because it’s still valuable” to their discussions. Until Monday, members of the public had to attend in person to offer comments. Alder Debra Ryan (Dist 11) also backed the provision.

The amendment resolutions will not apply to closed sessions. Both for the purpose of establishing a quorum, or vote on any matter in a closed session, government body members will have to attend in person.

The group also approved the Wausau Fire Department’s request to apply to a federal grant to hire nine additional firefighters/paramedics.

(For the original motions which have been approved with respective amendments, click here and go to page 49 and page 51.)

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.