Eau Claire City Council President Kerry Kincaid’s abrupt resignation Tuesday marks the latest in a string of changing faces on the city’s top governing body.
Kincaid, council president since 2009, announced her resignation a few hours before Tuesday’s council meeting. Her decision comes after a year that at times included controversy and two months after a significant shake-up of council membership. She issued a statement Tuesday stating “it has become impossible” to continue to govern the city the way she would like.
In the April 3 election incumbent council members Bob Von Haden, David Klinkhammer, Kathleen Mitchell and Tim Tewalt lost to political newcomers when Emily Anderson, Emily Berge, Jill Christopherson and Jeremy Gragert were elected to district council seats.
Of incumbents, only Terry Weld, appointed to the council last year, was elected after topping challenger Zachary Meives in the April election.
With Kincaid’s resignation, five of the council’s 11 seats have changed since the election, the largest council member alteration in such a tight time frame in recent years.
Those changes mean a significant amount of lost experience regarding city issues. Kincaid, 65, was first elected to the council in 2004 and had led the council for the past nine years.
Most council members ousted in the April election also had served significant council tenures. Von Haden was a councilman for 15 years and Klinkhammer for 11. Mitchell served on the council for seven years while Tewalt was a member for three years.
Combined, the council’s years of experience on that body before the April election totaled 78 years. After the election and with Kincaid’s departure, that figure stands at 28 years for the current council.
Current council members acknowledged the loss of experience overseeing city matters with the group’s revised makeup. They backed Kincaid’s work as council president despite sometimes differing with her on issues.
“Her leadership is appreciated by many, and she helped steer our community through a number of challenges while making significant accomplishments possible,” council Vice President Andrew Werthmann said, noting downtown revitalization efforts among initiatives Kincaid helped spearhead.
“We certainly have lost some valuable experience,” Christopherson said of council turnover.
Councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle concurred, saying she has learned much from her council colleagues during her six years as a member. “Having that institutional knowledge certainly is a strength,” she said.
However, they said, new council members will gain experience with time. In the meantime, Christopherson said, she and others will advance new ideas as they attempt to improve the lives of city residents.
“You lost some experience, but you have some new views and we will have the best interest of the city at heart,” Christopherson said.
Werthmann — who presided over Tuesday’s council meeting as its vice president — also acknowledged the loss of institutional knowledge of city affairs. But new council members were elected because of their views on such issues such as transit, wages and the environment they espoused during their campaigns, he said.
“Voters spoke loud and clear in April,” Werthmann said. “The issues those candidates campaigned on mattered to (voters) ... so now they are going to bring forth those issues and others to help our community.”
Councilwoman Kate Beaton agreed with that sentiment. Eau Claire is in the midst of change, she said, “and the last election is a sign that citizens expect leadership to be in step with the ideas that are important to them.”
Council newcomers already are proposing new ideas such as how to more effectively engage the public in the decision-making process, Werthmann said.
“A fresh, new set of ideas is beneficial to the city,” he said.
Who will be named the next council president — and what that process will entail — remains uncertain. City attorney Stephen Nick said the council is expected to discuss the process of appointing a new president when it meets in two weeks.
Details regarding options to fill that position are still being finalized, Nick said Wednesday. The process likely will be similar to the filling of other council positions in the past.
A special election for that position must occur no later than April as the job is an elected one. The president’s seat would then be on the ballot in April 2020 for its full three-year term.
For the time being Werthmann will oversee council meetings. He was named council vice president by his peers at the council’s organizational meeting following the April election.
When he found out Kincaid had resigned three hours before Tuesday’s council meeting, Werthmann said, he worked with city staff to get up to speed. A nine-year council veteran, he is familiar with council procedures.
“But I had never run one of those meetings before,” he said. “It was a whole different thing.”
Werthmann said his nerves got the better of him as he read through a proclamation at the start of the meeting. But his confidence grew as the meeting proceeded, he said. Similarly, new council members will grow more comfortable with their jobs as they gain experience, he said.
“Our community is at a crossroads,” he said. “We are being asked to be more dynamic and respond to the growth we are experiencing ... and this council will offer ideas to address those issues.”