Monday, October 15, 2018

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Council president quits: Year of turmoil, radical change in council makeup may have played role

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    Eau Claire City Council President Kerry Kincaid presides over a meeting in October 2012. After nine years as the council’s leader, she resigned effective Tuesday with almost two years remaining in her term.

    Staff file photo by Dan Reiland

Eau Claire City Council President Kerry Kincaid resigned her position Tuesday morning. This follows a year in which she faced a controversy over meeting protocol and lost several allies on the council.

Kincaid, who has led the council for nine years, issued a statement after she submitted her resignation to City Manager Dale Peters.

“On this day, and effective immediately, I find it necessary to resign my position as City Council President as it has become impossible to govern in a manner befitting a city that works, and to which the public has become accustomed,” she wrote.

Council vice president Andrew Werthmann presided over Tuesday afternoon’s City Council meetings. He said that he’d learned of Kincaid’s resignation about three hours before the 4 p.m. meeting.

In two weeks, the City Council will discuss the process of appointing a new president. Then there will be a special election in April for the year that will then be remaining in Kincaid’s unexpired term. The president’s seat will then be on the April 2020 ballot for a full three-year term.

In an interview with the Leader-Telegram, Kincaid didn’t elaborate much more on the reasons that led to her departure midterm.

“It’s been a long year,” she said. “A lady knows when it’s time to leave.”

Last fall, Kincaid’s denial to allow Councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle’s young child to sit with her during meetings for the purposes of breast-feeding drew controversy. Ultimately the policy that Kincaid defended, which bans children from the dais where the council sits, stood.

The American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter decrying the policy, claiming it is gender discrimination against women with young children who hold elected office. The news story also spread through outlets including People magazine, the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, Yahoo News, Bustle, Glamour magazine and other publications with a nationwide reach.

Kincaid, 65, lost four longtime colleagues on the council in April’s election, which ushered in several newcomers to city politics.

Incumbents David Klinkhammer, Bob Von Haden, Kathleen Mitchell and Tim Tewalt all lost their seats to newcomers to city politics. Emily Anderson, Jill Christopherson, Jeremy Gragert and Emily Berge won their aldermanic seats, respectively, in the spring election.

“I’m sorry that she’s resigning,” Klinkhammer said in a phone interview. “I think that it will be our city’s loss.”

While he couldn’t speak to Kincaid’s reasons for resigning, Klinkhammer suspected that the change in the council’s membership was at least a factor.

“I think the turnover on the council had something to do with it, certainly,” he said.

After Tuesday’s meeting, Councilman David Strobel thanked Kincaid for her years of service but wished it would’ve ended differently.

“I would have preferred she not resign but stay on to allow the new members to benefit from her experience,” he said.

Between her resignation and incumbents losing re-election, Strobel noted the loss of experience on the council has been unbelievable this year. But he added that both experienced council members and city staff will help the newer elected officials with the transition.

In her statement, Kincaid focused on positive efforts she has been part of during 14 years on the City Council.

Accomplishments Kincaid cited included downtown revitalization, intergovernmental agreements with neighboring jurisdictions, creation of the Public Spirit Fund, establishing the city’s first writer-in-residence, cultivating a working relationship with city staff, and advancing trust and civility in local government.

“These accomplishments are not mine alone, and I proclaim my admiration and hearty respect for city staff and the visionary people who urged me to try new things for the good of the city,” she said.

Kincaid then stated that she will employ her leadership skills toward another good.

She intends to volunteer her time to a newly created nonprofit organization, Eau Claire PORCH, which is the extension of a committee she’s served on that discusses homelessness in the city.

“We will be a problem-solving, nimble volunteer group that breaks down barriers for people experiencing homelessness,” she said.

The nonprofit will help existing agencies with issues such as transportation and evictions, which can be barriers to homeless people getting jobs and new homes, respectively.

Kincaid also plans to finish her dissertation for the doctorate in leadership program she started in 2013 at the University of St. Thomas in the Twin Cities.

Contact: 715-833-9204, andrew.dowd@ecpc.com, @ADowd_LT on Twitter


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