Damakant Jayshi

Newly elected members of the Wausau City Council were sworn in on Tuesday for a two-year term and chose Becky McElhaney to continue as president.

The council also discussed several rule proposals and elected members to several commissions.

McElhaney, who represents Dist. 6, prevailed over Dist. 2 Alder Michael Martens by a vote of 7-3 in a secret ballot. Gary Gisselman, who was just elected to represent Dist. 5, was not present during the voting since he left for the first meeting of the new Marathon County Board of Supervisors, where he will also serve a two-year term.

Alder Sarah Watson, from Dist. 8, was unanimously elected to a seat on the Plan Commission. She replaces Tom Neal ,who did not seek reelection. Dist. 9 Alder Dawn Herbst was reelected to the Wausau Water Works Commission, defeating newly-elected Doug Diny by a 6-4 vote.

During the meeting Tuesday, the council approved Mayor Katie Rosenberg’s committee assignments for the 2022-24 term, while approving creation of an executive committee to replace the Administrative Review, Coordinating and Legislative committee. Chairs of the six standing committees will be members of the executive committee.

The rules were adopted after some intense discussion over whether an alder should be allowed to chair multiple committees.

Diny proposed a rule change that would prevent an alder from leading more than one standing committee. Diny said barring an alder from assuming multiple chairs would ensure diversity of leadership and thought. Lou Larson (Dist. 10) and Tom Kilian (Dist. 3) supported the idea and spoke in its favor.

But Dist. 7 Alder Lisa Rasmussen, who chairs three of the six committees, opposed the rule change.

“Let the committee members choose the chair,” said Rasmussen, who heads the Capital Improvements and Street Maintenance, Public Health and Safety, and Finance Committees. “Rules like this will hamstring the process.”

Under current rules, each committee elects its own chair without a limit on the number of committees that one elected official can lead.

Kilian said that a committee chair wields too much power in setting the agenda for meetings. Vesting that authority in a single alder to decide the agenda for three committees is not a good idea, he said.

Rasmussen countered that by saying the agenda was set upon the suggestion from the city’s staff and experts. The proposal failed 4-7.

A similar attempt to change the rules regarding committee leadership failed on procedural grounds in October last year.

However, the council approved an amendment offered by Watson to allow any two alders to call for a meeting of the Committee of the Whole (COW). Previously, a meeting of the COW could only be called by either the mayor or president of the Common Council.

The COW discusses matters that might not fall under a committee or can be called in cases that require robust discussion by all council members. The COW can also consider measures that receive conflicting outcomes by different committees. Those matters must still be formally approved by the Common Council.