Damakant Jayshi

Several members of Marathon County’s Diversity Affairs Commission on Wednesday expressed concern that their work on diversity and inclusion will be ignored if it is dissolved as proposed.

Members discussed the future the Commission after news emerged that the Rules Review Committee proposed axing it.

Without the Diversity Affairs Commission (DAC), said Commissioner La’Tanya Campbell, it would be difficult to push for diversity since marginalized people will not have an avenue to voice their concerns. She argued that the Board has not accepted any recommendations from the Commission, which advises but does not set county policy.

Chair of the Commission, Supervisor Yee Leng Xiong, shared a brief history of the advisory body as well was as a snapshot of his discussions with Rules Review Vice-Chair Craig McEwen regarding DAC’s potential elimination.

Instead of a body devoted exclusively to diversity and inclusion, the Rules Review committee has proposed that language of diversity and inclusion be integrated with each of the standing committees. Critics have said it is merely “code for ‘we’ll bury it and forget about it,’” as Supervisor Bill Conway told Wausau Pilot & Review last week.

Xiong said once there was even prior talk of converting the Diversity Affairs Commission (DAC) into a standing committee of the County Board, as that would allow more supervisors to discuss diversity and inclusion. Xiong, who represents Dist. 19, added he couldn’t understand why that idea was shelved.

Vice-chair of DAC, Lada Xiong-Vang, asked if the dissolution aligned with the county’s strategic plan.

Conway, Dist. 16, raised concerns that some who had expressed their opposition to diversity could be elected as supervisor in the spring election. “The fellow who was here at the last meeting who said that all Muslims should be deported could be in a deciding role,” he said.

“That’s chilling,” he added.

Dist. 11 Supervisor Alyson Leahy , another member on the Commission, asked how dissolving the group would impact diversity efforts in the county.

The Rules Review Committee’s recommendation, along with other proposals like curtailing the scope of public comments, will be taken up by the new Board when it convenes after the April 5 election. They can accept, modify or reject some or all of the changes.

Long a target of conservative members, the Diversity Affairs Commission got into the crosshairs of a number of supervisors after pushing for the controversial ‘Community for All’ resolution since 2020. The resolution declaring that the county welcomed everyone failed on procedural ground after the vote was tied 18-18. Since then, the push to dissolve the body, a sentiment expressed by some of the supervisors and residents at various standing committee and Board meetings, gained steam.

The supervisors behind the move to dissolve the commission have said that the group “tried to make policy changes,” has citizen members who have not been elected and has only three elected officials who are trying to impose their policy preferences on the 38-member Marathon County Board. Critics of the proposal to dissolve the group point out that most boards and committees also have citizen members and further say that an advisory committee can’t actually make policy decisions.

Another member of the DAC, Lisa Ort-Sondergard, said if the Commission is dissolved, diversity and inclusion will be forgotten and not addressed in Marathon County.

“The timing couldn’t be worse,” she said, pointing to the resettlement of refugees from Afghanistan in the Wausau area. She hoped that the standing committees would take up diversity and inclusion but said she is not hopeful given the vitriol witnessed during the debate over the CFA.

The next meeting of the Commission is on April 27 – if it is still in existence.