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Roosevelt Ave. roundabout rejected

Three months after pushing to create a roundabout at a neighborhood intersection near UW-Eau Claire, the Eau Claire City Council effectively reversed its decision.

In a 10-0 vote — Councilwoman Kate Beaton was absent — the council decided Tuesday to not pursue acquiring land from homeowners around the intersection of Roosevelt Avenue and State Street needed to make a roundabout.

“We certainly don’t want to pressure someone to sell land if they’re not going to be happy with the outcome at all,” Councilman Jeremy Gragert said.

He was a sponsor of the successful March 12 effort to add the fourth roundabout to three others that didn’t attract the same controversy as part of about a mile of roadwork slated this year for State Street. Since then the council heard from neighboring landowners and other 3rd Ward, as well as receiving petitions with hundreds of signatures opposing the Roosevelt Avenue roundabout.

“Before the petitions arrived about half the people who got in touch with me were in favor of the roundabout and the other half were against it,” Gragert said.

He and other council members said their prior decision was made with safety in mind, but they acknowledged the political reality that public opinion had swayed against it.

Councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle said her previous vote in favor of the roundabout was driven by data showing that it was the safest option for the intersection.

But since then she’s heard from many Eau Claire residents — even her 14-year-old daughter — that the roundabout is a very unpopular choice for that location.

“I heard loud and clear ‘no way, uh-uh, not going to happen,’” Emmanuelle said.

On Monday night, 15 Eau Claire residents spoke to the council — all opposed to the roundabout — but some council members felt there still was silent support for the controversial change to the intersection.

As opposition grew louder in recent weeks, Councilman Andrew Werthmann said those who still wanted a roundabout didn’t feel comfortable speaking up anymore.

“That’s not OK,” he said.

He commended the petitioners for the time and energy that went into collecting hundreds of signatures, but Werthmann also said he’d heard some people who signed that were told inaccurate information on how close cars would be to homes at the roundabout.

“There was a lot of misinformation out there about this project and about the impacts of this project,” he said.

But Werthmann acknowledged that more people have spoken out that they want something other than a roundabout at the intersection.

Council President Terry Weld said the council voted for the roundabout in March because they believed it was the best option at the time.

“Our intentions were good,” he said.

Weld added that he’s thankful for residents who spoke up and pledged the city will work to make the intersection safer.

That may include the addition of a concrete island on the north side of the intersection between the two traffic lanes on State Street so pedestrians can cross the street one lane at a time. Gragert and others also mentioned a flashing traffic light pedestrians can turn on when they want to cross the street, more signs around the crossing and potentially a slower speed limit.

City engineer David Solberg intends to present a new design for the Roosevelt Avenue intersection to the council in early July. Before then he will be meeting with those closely impacted by the intersection, including the 3rd Ward Neighborhood Association, UW-Eau Claire and the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, to discuss its redesign.

With the delay tied to rethinking the Roosevelt Avenue intersection design, Solberg said there’s a 50/50 chance of getting that portion of the State Street project done this year. If the portion of the State Street project in the 3rd Ward and close to the university campus isn’t built this year, it will be postponed to 2020 and coincide with work already planned for Garfield Avenue.

The council did vote 10-0 to hire Haas Sons of Thorp to do the $4 million in road work planned this year on State Street.

Other business

Also during Tuesday’s meeting:

• In a 10-0 vote, the council agreed to annex the vacant Little Red Elementary School from the town of Brunswick into city limits.

Jumbo-size fun at the circus

Above: From front, Finnley Lancette, 3, of Chippewa Falls, his cousin Corbyn Leisz, 6, of Turtle Lake, and Attaya Hodgson, 4, of Eau Claire, ride an elephant Tuesday at the Mehara Shrine Circus at Carson Park in Eau Claire. The circus performs again today at 2 and 7 p.m. at Carson Park and then on Thursday in Menomonie at the Dunn County Ice Arena Fairgrounds, with shows at 2 and 7 p.m. View more photos at

Right: The Gamo Brothers, as seen on Lttle Big Shots, perform Tuesday at the Mehara Shrine Circus at Carson Park in Eau Claire.

Holocaust Museum digitizing letters from Anne Frank's father

YARMOUTH, Mass. (AP) — Ryan Cooper was a 20-something Californian unsure of his place in the world when he struck up a pen pal correspondence in the 1970s with Otto Frank, the father of the young Holocaust victim Anne Frank.

Through dozens of letters and several face-to-face meetings, the two forged a friendship that lasted until Frank died in 1980 at the age of 91.

Now 73 years old, Cooper, an antiques dealer and artist in Massachusetts, has donated a trove of letters and mementos he received from Frank to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington ahead of the 90th anniversary today of Anne Frank’s birth on June 12, 1929.

He wants the letters to be shared so that people can have a deeper understanding of the man who introduced the world to Anne Frank, whose famous World War II diary is considered one of the most important works of the 20th century.

“He was a lot like Anne in that he was an optimist,” Cooper said of Otto Frank at his house on Cape Cod recently. “He always believed the world would be right in the end, and he based that hope on the young people.”

As the German army occupied the Netherlands, the Franks hid in the attic of Otto Frank’s office in Amsterdam. But they were eventually discovered and sent to concentration camps, where 15-year-old Anne, her elder sister and her mother died — among an estimated 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis.

Otto Frank was the only family member to survive, living to see the Soviet army liberate the notorious Auschwitz camp in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1945. He had his daughter’s diary published two years later and dedicated his days to speaking about the atrocities of the Holocaust.

But in his letters and conversations in person, Frank focused less on his family’s ordeal and chose instead to counsel Cooper through his own everyday struggles. For Cooper, those ranged from losing his mother, to questioning his Jehovah’s Witness upbringing to worrying about his career and romantic relationships.

“Some of the letters really have nothing to do with Anne,” Cooper said. “In a lot of ways, I feel like I was adopted by Otto. He made me feel like I had a family during a period of real isolation.”

In one letter, Frank urged Cooper to draw inspiration from Anne’s optimism under vastly more dire circumstances.

“I want to remind you of her ardent wish ‘to work for mankind’ in case she would survive,” Frank wrote on Jan. 9, 1972. “I can see from your letter that you are an intelligent person and that you have self criticism and so I can only hope that Anne will inspire you to find a positive outlook on life.”

The letters also show the toll Otto Frank’s life work had on his physical and mental health, said Edna Friedberg, a historian at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

In one of the later letters to Cooper, Frank’s second wife, Elfriede “Fritzi” Frank, wrote about how her husband struggled to maintain his health during a series of public appearances and interviews ahead of the 50th anniversary of Anne Frank’s birth.

“You can surely imagine that all this is very emotional for him and takes a lot of his strength,” she wrote on March 21, 1979. “But you cannot prevent him for doing what he thinks is his duty.”

Otto Frank died the following summer.

As Anne Frank’s 90th birthday approaches, Friedberg said it’s important to remember the sacrifices Otto and others made to keep her legacy alive. Her writings were preserved by Miep Gies, Otto Frank’s secretary who helped the family while they were in hiding. She returned the documents to him after the war.

“Otto Frank never had to publish that diary. As a parent in mourning, he could have kept this to himself,” she said. “But he gave it as a gift to humanity because he saw that it spoke to something bigger. He took that charge, and ran with it for the rest of his life.”

The museum will digitize and eventually make Cooper’s collection available online. It totals more than 80 letters, including his correspondence with Gies and others who aided the Frank family during the war, and a number of modest family keepsakes. Those include Otto Frank’s coin purse and a photo of Anne.

Eau Claire City Council reviews city projects plan

After espousing the need for more affordable housing in Eau Claire for the past year, a couple of City Council members were dismayed to see money wouldn’t be allocated to address the issue until 2022 in a proposed city projects plan.

Council members Catherine Emmanuelle and Andrew Werthmann both said they’d face a tough time telling people that a key topic in April’s elections won’t see financial support from the city next year.

“For me to go out to constituents and say in three years we’ll be able to address it, that’s difficult,” Emmanuelle said during a Tuesday evening work session.

City Manager Dale Peters explained that the 2020-2024 Capital Improvements Plan he is proposing had to strike a balance between new initiatives and projects that have been in the city’s queue for years.

Finance director Jay Winzenz said he took into consideration priorities that council members expressed during a May 28 meeting and made tweaks to the plan. Those changes were made mostly by delaying other projects, namely $2.15 million in improvements to Hobbs Ice Center.

The $1 million the city planned for investments in renewable energy were boosted by $900,000 based on the council’s input, Winzenz noted.

An initiative to get the public more involved in how the city spends money will get control of $500,000 in projects spending over the next five years.

But it wasn’t the addition of $1.25 million to help address Eau Claire’s affordable housing crunch that bothered Werthmann, it was that it wouldn’t start coming until 2022.

“It’s hard for me to go out and say we’re going to do this in three year’s time,” Werthmann said.

He said the plan didn’t take enough of the council’s input from the May 28 priority-setting exercise.

“It doesn’t seem to me that it did,” Werthmann said.

Peters replied that elected officials’ answers to an exercise on how they’d want to see city projects funded were listened to, but not in a strictly dollar-for-dollar way.

“If we followed that literally, there would be a 40% reduction in street projects,” he said.

Peters added that it’s the council’s prerogative to make amendments to the projects plan in coming weeks.

Both Werthmann and Emmanuelle noted how 2019’s budget amendments had been a contentious issue during the last election.

“That puts the council in a very difficult spot,” Emmanuelle said.

She hopes any potential changes can be made earlier in the year, rather than when the full 2020 budget is approved this fall.

The first year of the 2020-2024 projects plan will become part of next year’s city budget in autumn. Before that happens, the council will have a series of meetings to discuss funding for specific projects and make changes to the plan. Tuesday was the first meeting and there will be another next week on Tuesday afternoon. Numerous city commissions will then give their opinions on the plan before it goes to a public discussion on July 22 followed by a July 23 City Council vote.

As Peters proposed, the five-year projects plan has a total cost of $209 million with $61.2 million of that in next year alone.

The biggest single project planned for 2020 is $17 million — half from private donors the rest borrowed by the city — to add a third floor and make major renovations to L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library, 400 Eau Claire St.