Damakant Jayshi

Amid lingering questions over its legal status the Wausau Executive Committee on Monday recommended that the Council adopt the city’s next strategic plan, as presented by Mayor Katie Rosenberg.

The six-member committee voted unanimously to recommend the five-year plan, which aims to “develop strategies and services to support existing business and workers and attract and retain a skilled workforce and innovative businesses.”

Rosenberg in 2021 called for the city’s first strategic plan, asking for community members to envision the next five to seven years and picture what they would like to see happen. A Strategic Planning Steering Committee spearheaded the process. The plan, which was not posted with the agenda for Monday’s meeting, envisions Wausau as working “in concert with businesses and other governments in the region,” forming a “cooperative ecosystem” that contributes to a “vibrant community.”

Objectives include optimizing room tax revenues, developing human resources to maintain a quality workforce, highlighting the city’s strengths, partnering to create wraparound services and continuing to collaborate with businesses to create “new and improved existing housing stock,” among others. The plan calls for creating a “fun and vibrant community,” an age-friendly community plan and “strong regional alliances,” a facet that has seen significant challenges in recent years.

The full strategic plan is embedded below.

Questions swirl over legalities

The vote was taken over objections by a non-member, Alder Tom Kilian, who wanted the wording to be “referred” rather than “recommended.” But City Attorney Anne Jacobson said the Executive Committee, like other standing committees, can make such a recommendation to the Common Council.

“It would be more appropriate since there’s a majority of parent body members voting on this tonight to simply refer it to council, without giving some recommendation however subtle or explicit to approve the document which serves as a policy document,” Kilian said.

The City Council has 11 members and the Executive Committee has six. All other standing committees have five members.

Alder Lisa Rasmussen said that committee recommendations are either a pro or con.

“Ordinarily when we make a recommendation, we recommend that that another committee consider an item, and we usually recommend a direction,” she said, adding that other committees – as well as the full council – can follow that direction or reject it. Jacobson agreed with that explanation.

Before the business on the agenda began, discussion over the nature of the meeting surfaced again.

City officials reset the meeting from Thursday to Monday using alternate language, which appears to acknowledge concerns raised by Alder Kilian.

Initially, city officials cited the reason for cancelling the meeting, which included discussion on two key issues facing Wausau, as a “lack of quorum.” A revised agenda emerged late Friday afternoon, similar to the postponed meeting but with some significant additions.

The agenda referred to the meeting as Executive Committee and Common Council with this qualifier: ‘There is no separate business agenda for the Common Council as a majority of the Council will, or is likely to be present for information gathering purposes.’

The meeting was noticed as a Common Council meeting jointly with the Executive Committee, Kilian said. But Jacobson disagreed, offering a lengthy explanation of what the meeting was and was not.

“Whenever six or more of the council members are present at the meeting of any body, it is technically a meeting under the (Wisconsin) Open Meeting(s) law for purposes of gathering information over areas in which they exercise responsibility,” she said. “But this is not a joint meeting; there’s no separate business agenda for the council, so this is not a council meeting in the sense they are conducting business.”

Eight members were in the chamber at the time the meeting began, enough to constitute a quorum. In addition to the six members of the Executive Committee, Kilian and Alder Chad Henke were also in the room. Kilian attended amid concerns his district would not be represented when crucial decisions were made.

The Executive Committee is composed of the chairperson of each of the standing committees and Council President, Becky McElhaney, is the chair of the committee. But questions over representation from the Human Resources Committee were raised since McElhaney chairs the HR body.

The page on the city website laying out the composition description of membership of the Executive Committee appears to have changed, just recently. Kilian objected in the meeting regarding the absence of Human Resources representation. His understanding, he said, is that the Executive Committee would be required to have HR on the roster and do so in a manner that avoided duplication of membership on the committee.

His concerns were to be resolved by bringing the issue back to the full City Council, according to comments made during Monday’s meeting. But rather than do so, a change was simply made to the website, showing McElhaney as the HR representative and Council President in a dual role.

That prompted concerns by Kilain about transparency, an issue he has repeatedly raised during and even before his tenure on the Council.

“I find it odd, and concerning, that the composition and associated description of membership on the City web page was apparently changed since last night’s meeting, given that, from my recollection – after my concern and objection was conveyed about the lack of HR representation – it was seemingly suggested that this would be addressed and resolved by bringing the issue back to council, not just by making some web edit,” Kilian told Wausau Pilot & Review.