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By Keene Winters

That was quick.  Every two years, Wausau elects a new city council, and citizens start the term with some residual hope that their city government will be better this time around.  Unfortunately, the Class of 2022 extinguished that thought in record time with its lengthy, ponderous and pointless debate over the creation of a new “executive committee.”

Keene Winters is a Wausau financial advisor who served two terms on the Wausau City Council from April 2012 to April 2016. (Photo credit: Life Touch)

In fairness to the council, this was Mayor Katie Rosenberg’s idea.  After creating a blizzard of mayoral task forces in her first two years, she apparently decided that yet another subgroup was needed to play ringmaster to the circus of existing committees and work groups.

To help understand how far off the deep-end Wausau has gone with committee-mania let us start by examining the traditional role of and executive committee.  For example, I belong to a board that has 34 members from across the state that meets quarterly.  It has a small executive committee to serve as caretakers of the organization between board meetings.  It is empowered to act in the board’s place—subject to later ratification by the full board—because it is simply impractical to gather a quorum of the body whenever some time-sensitive issue pops up.

By contrast, the Wausau City Council has only eleven members and meets twice per month.  Clearly, there is no logistical need to have a seven-member executive committee to cover the gaps.

Moreover, the city council already has a plethora of committees that meet monthly. They are as follows:

  • Finance               
  • Capital Improvements & Street Maintenance
  • Economic Development 
  • Parks & Recreation
  • Human Resources           
  • Public Health & Safety

In addition, the mayor, the council president or any two members of the council can call a committee of the whole meeting to address any issue under the sun.  That is 41 committee slots to be filled by just eleven people.  How can creating seven more seats be a solution to anything?

Rather than solving any problems, the misbegotten executive committee is likely to be the source of more chaos because it is a committee with a built-in quorum of the council.  Wisconsin Statutes 19.82 (2) states that “if one-half or more of the members of a governmental body are present, the meeting is rebuttably presumed to be for the purpose of exercising the responsibilities . . . delegated to the vested body.”  Therefore, when seven of eleven council members are gathered for an executive committee meeting, it is de facto a meeting of council with four members excluded.

However, members cannot be prohibited from participating.  Wisconsin Statutes 19.89 says “no duly elected or appointed member of a governmental body may be excluded from any meeting of such body.”  So, in addition to lingering questions about what the committee can and will do, there are also legitimate legal concerns about keeping four council members from speaking and voting.  

Seriously, Your Honor, you can do better than this!  A couple weeks ago, I challenged you to articulate some practical suggestions for making city government better in an op-ed.  We are all still waiting for your answer.  But, if creating an “executive committee” is the best idea you have, then it is going to be hard to ask voters for another term.

Would you like some help?  Here is a suggestion that would seriously streamline and improve city government.  Get rid of all of the council committees and just use the committee of the whole to address all the committee work that is needed.  

The work flow becomes vastly simpler.  This would eliminate the rediculous duplication of issues going from one committee and then to another.  No longer would council members have to attend their assigned committees plus a bunch of committee they are not on just to keep up on everything.  Think of the staff; it would save them from making the same presentation over and over again to different committees.  It is an elegant way to get everyone on the same page at the same time.

Again, we do not need more committees or task forces for another two years of brainstorming. You were elected to be a leader not a facilitator.  Please take the opportunity to show some leadership and share your solutions for making city government better in a op-ed.


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