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Wausau City Council passes “We Are Wausau” Resolution

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WAUSAU, WI (WSAU) — Tuesday evening the Wausau City Council held lengthy discussions on two resolutions that also included over an hour of public comment at the beginning of the meeting. One of the resolutions was the “We Are Wausau” resolution that was recently reworked from the city’s version of the “A Community for All” resolution originally proposed by the Marathon County Diversity Affairs Commission.

The “We Are Wausau” resolution came amended from the Economic Development Committee who had a heated discussion the week prior on the language of the resolution. Committee Chair and District 4 Alder Tom Neal began the discussion by affirming his support for the resolution with a written statement.

“The ‘We Are Wausau’ resolution is meant to acknowledge that people’s differences aren’t consistently respected. And to express a determination to move above and beyond all forms of bias and exclusion. The resolution to anyone who reads it clearly does not declare that bias is running rampant. It simply states that we still see an uneven playing field with barriers that disproportionately affect certain marginalized segments of our community.

“I firmly believe that those expressing this opposition represent a very small fraction of our population really. But they can be fervent in promoting their views and they can be out there too. We as a community need to respond with a unified voice, everyone deserves respect. A fair shake. Equal treatment and opportunity. Not equal outcomes as this ad falsely claims.”

“Let’s not just assume that ours is a community for all. Let’s declare it with conviction. Let’s make it part of our city strategies and policies. Refusing to do so sends a distinctly different and damaging message to our residents, and to everyone who we want to have a positive attitude toward our town.”

District 7 Alder Lisa Rasmussen was the main vocal detractor of the resolution on the Council. Rasmussen proposed multiple changes to the document at the Economic Development meeting on August 2nd. Some of those changes were included while one was excluded as being thought of as a way to water down the message of the resolution.

Rasmussen said her hope in taking the resolution back to the committee in June was to come out with a better product. “What we got in the committee was a completely reworked product. And I will say that it is way better than the original. But my goal in the committee in proposing some changes to it was to find us a product that would gain the backing of more people, more segments of our population.”

Some of the concerns surrounding the resolution expressed by some members of the public and Rasmussen included that it did not have a specific action item and that the resolution used the word equity in the 6th whereas paragraph. In regards to the action item, District 3 Alder Tom Killian said it was important to not dismiss the significance of language and the emotional concerns of city residents.

“I think there’s a fundamental mistake that’s often made in business as well. So when you’re talking about emotional and functional benefits that actually it’s often the emotional benefits that are most persuasive in communications. … Trust in government. Feeling that your government cares. As one citizen said earlier, feeling that your government sees you. These are important. And for other government business to go well, you must start at that place. And without those fundamentals you have nothing.

“… Is that a community for all when you kick people out of their homes and bulldoze them to spend 1.2 million dollars for a fancy river edge trail. Is that a community for all? When you start in 2002, you don’t get Hmong language translation. Not one darn summary for the project because it’s locally funded. Is that a community for all when not even everyone can participate? So we must ask ourselves those questions.”

When addressing the concern of the use of the word equity, District 6 Alder and Council President Becky McElhaney used a school analogy to explain how the concept of equity would work for the city. “When we send people to school we don’t have one curriculum and say every kid goes through it. If you get it good. If you don’t too bad. We have remedial classes. We have special ed. We have tutors.

“We try to catch up, we have English as a second language. We start young. We’re starting now with 4K, we didn’t have that before. To give equity. Does everybody that comes out of school get equal outcomes? Absolutely not. I do not see equity as equal outcomes. I see that as giving them the best chance. Because what do we want, people out of school we want them to get a job. To be productive citizens and do the best they can.

“I’ve always told my children, there will always be somebody smarter, faster, and stronger than you. You will never have that be equal, or you’re never going to be the smartest ever. Be the best that you can be. That’s what this is telling me.”

After close to 45 minutes of discussion, the Council voted in favor of the “We Are Wausau” resolution on a 9-2 vote. Rasmussen and District 9 Alder Dawn Herbst were the two Alders to vote against the resolution.

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