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Weld elected Eau Claire City Council president

Eau Claire voters elected Terry Weld to serve as City Council president for the next year.

Weld, who has been an at-large councilman for the past two years, got 6,790 votes to the 6,087 ballots cast for acting council President Andrew Werthmann.

After the poll results came in showing his victory, Weld said he was honored, relieved and excited for his next chapter in city politics.

“I’m excited for our new council members, and I look forward to sitting down with them,” he said, giving a nod to five at-large council seats also decided on Tuesday.

The current City Council will preside over the April 8 and 9 meetings. Members elected Tuesday will be sworn in later this month and begin their duties.

Werthmann, who was on a business trip Tuesday, called Weld to concede the race at about 9 p.m. and give his congratulations.

Weld won with 52.7 percent of the vote versus the 47.3 percent support that Werthmann saw at the polls.

“Clearly a lot of folks were supporting both of us,” Werthmann said. “It was a fairly close race.”

The race pitted the council’s longest-serving current member against a newer councilman who had name recognition in the local business community.

Werthmann has represented a council district for 10 years and was named acting council president in June after Kerry Kincaid stepped down from the presidency mid-term.

Weld, who grew up in Eau Claire, had owned and operated Houligan’s Steak & Seafood, 415 S. Barstow St., for 12 years before changing careers to be a real estate agent for the last 18 years.

Werthmann, who moved here in 2001 to attend UW-Eau Claire, works as a consultant on National Parks policy to Pew Charitable Trusts.

Regardless of Tuesday’s results, he has a spot on the council. Werthmann was re-elected in April 2018 to another three-year term to his position as District 5 representative on the council.

District 5 includes downtown, plus the nearby East Side Hill, North Side Hill, Randall Park and Mount Simon neighborhoods.

However, for Weld, it was presidency or bust. Unable to run for two council positions on the same ballot, Weld chose to run for president instead of seeking re-election to his at-large seat.

Weld’s campaign had outraised and outspent Werthmann’s, according to reports that show financial activity up to March 18.

Weld had raised $25,785 by that point to Werthmann’s $19,620. Weld spent $17,000 and Werthmann had used about half of his campaign funds by March 18.

Campaigns won’t have to disclose fundraising and spending that happened during the past two weeks until reports that are due in July.

Tuesday’s race was the first major contest of Werthmann’s city political career. He was the only candidate on the ballot for his district in 2009, 2012 and 2018 elections. Che Stone Parrot ran against Werthmann in 2015, but stopped campaigning prior to the election and the incumbent held onto his seat with 84.5 percent of the vote. Werthmann’s peers appointed him to role of council vice president in April 2018 following an election where four incumbents were ousted by newcomers. That paved the path for him to become acting council president after Kincaid resigned.

Weld was appointed in spring 2017 to a seat that became vacant after Councilman Eric Larsen resigned so he could perform work for the city police department.

Weld then had to run to keep the seat in April 2018. He handily beat challenger Zachary Meives, holding onto his council seat with 78 percent of the vote.

Tuesday’s council president election was only for a one-year term, which is what remains of Kincaid’s unexpired term. The council presidency will again be on the ballot in April 2020.

The council president presides over meetings, is instrumental in setting the group’s agenda and has informally served a spokesperson for the city. The council president gets a salary of $3,600, compared to $3,000 for other council members.


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Committee continuing to look for housing options for sex offender

The committee responsible for identifying an appropriate residential option in Eau Claire County for a sex offender included an address in a report submitted to the state, but no location has been finalized, officials said Tuesday.

“The committee will continue to investigate its options, including county-owned properties,” said Richard Eaton, Eau Claire County assistant corporation counsel and chairman of the county’s Supervised Release Committee. “There hasn’t been a final decision.”

“So when they say county-owned property, … the Fairchild area isn’t out of the running yet,” said Todd Meyer, Fairchild town chairman, explaining almost half of the land that makes up the town is owned by the county.

Residents living in eastern Eau Claire County, including the Fairchild area, are hoping to see such offenders housed elsewhere.

“It’s the wrong end of the county,” said Eau Claire County Board Supervisor Gary Gibson, whose district includes the town and village of Fairchild.

Because of a change in the law, counties — instead of the state — now must identify an appropriate housing option within their borders for people committed to a treatment facility under the state’s sexual predator law who have been granted supervised release.

Prompting the search, Eau Claire County Judge Sarah Harless signed an order for supervised release for Jeffrey J. Bonnin on Oct. 8, according to court records.

“When there is a court order for supervised release of (a sexually violent person) in Eau Claire County, (a temporary) committee must complete a report identifying an appropriate residential placement option and submit the report to the circuit court which ordered the release,” Eaton explained in a fact sheet for county officials last month.

“Failure to submit a report identifying an appropriate placement option can result in daily financial penalties for (the county’s Department of Human Services), reported up to $1,000 per day,” Eaton wrote.

The temporary committee has been meeting since October and has attempted to locate appropriate residential housing options for Bonnin, according to county officials, but none of those have worked out, so the committee had to consider other options, including placing these people in housing on county land.

On March 21, the county’s Highway Committee unanimously approved a motion allowing use of a portion of county-owned land on U.S. 12 in the town of Fairchild.

That action — although not final — prompted residents in the area to start petitions, contact committee members and attend Supervised Release Committee meetings, where many, including a handful of Amish, have voiced their opposition to that specific location off Oak Lane.

“We have enough problems in Fairchild,” Shawn Springer told the committee Tuesday. “Why would you want to put (these offenders) in the most remote part of Eau Claire County?”

While Eaton understands Springer’s sentiments, the committee has to find housing for Bonnin.

“This is a difficult position for the county to be in,” he said. “We are in it by law.”

Holding up a map of the county, committee members tried to show those attending Tuesday’s meeting why finding a suitable housing option is difficult.

That option, per state law, can’t be within 1,500 feet of any school premises, child care facility, public park, place of worship or youth center.

Several people said Tuesday the location off Oak Lane is close to Amish places of worship and schools.

Since the committee began meeting, Eaton said at least five properties have been considered.

Gibson, during a public input portion of the Supervised Release Committee’s meeting, suggested the committee look at a parcel totaling about 42 acres along U.S. 53 near State Patrol headquarters the county recently purchased to eventually house a replacement for the county Highway Department’s aging facilities in Altoona.

“I’d really like that area to be considered,” Gibson told the committee.

On March 26, the Supervised Release Committee submitted its report to the state Department of Health Services.

Per state law, the Department of Health Services is to use the Supervised Release Committee’s report to prepare a supervised release plan for Bonnin. The state has 30 days to submit that plan to Harless, who scheduled a hearing for April 29.

The Supervised Release Committee will meet again on Tuesday, and Eaton said the body would attempt to answer some of the questions residents have asked about the process.


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2 incumbents, 1 newcomer elected to EC school board

A newcomer and two incumbents were elected to the Eau Claire school board for three-year terms in Tuesday’s election.

The top vote-getter was board newcomer Tim Nordin with 8,402 votes. Incumbents Aaron Harder and Eric Torres received the next-highest number of votes, earning 8,263 and 7,640, respectively.

First-time candidate Erica Zerr did not earn one of the three places on the board with 7,311 votes.

Nordin, 40, comes to the board a former educator with a doctorate in educational policy from Rutgers University. He will take Chris Hambuch-Boyle’s seat on the board, as she opted not to seek re-election after serving for six years.

“I’m excited and intimidated,” Nordin said. “Chris Hambuch-Boyle’s shoes are going to be big to fill.”

After campaigning on a platform focused on bringing a change in leadership and fresh perspectives to the school board while serving as a voice for educators, students and families alike, Nordin said he looks forward to being part of ushering in a new era for the district.

A large part of that, Nordin said, will be selecting a new superintendent for the district.

Current schools Superintendent Mary Ann Hardebeck is slated to retire in 2020, and next school year she and the board will begin searching and transitioning the district’s next leader.

“I think we’re at a turning point for the district, and I look forward to guiding it through the new superintendent and beyond,” Nordin said. “And then it’s going to be having to make some tough decisions and figuring out ways we can get the budget in order but still innovate and give our students the best that we can offer.”

Agreeing with Nordin that the new superintendent and the budget will be the board’s biggest focuses going forward, Harder said he’s excited to continue the work of the current board for the next three years.

Harder, 47, has served on the school board for nearly three years and currently serves as vice president. The Eau Claire native has four sons attending school in the district and has emphasized throughout his campaign that he brings both parent and business owner perspectives to the board.

“With our current budget situation, we’ve got a year of tough questions ahead,” Harder said, “and we need to work together as a board and with our superintendent to stay very focused on that issue throughout this year.”

Harder said he’s also glad the board will have some continuity with two incumbents re-elected.

Torres, 57, will also bring continuity to the board, having served for two years. He works as an associate professor of education at UW-Eau Claire.

“I do think it’s really important to have that continuity over the last few years,” Harder said. “I’m really proud to have been part of the district’s leadership team and very grateful to serve another three.”