EAU CLAIRE — A new city initiative will give Eau Claire residents the opportunity to brainstorm and vote on up to $300,000 worth of public projects.
During its Tuesday evening meeting, the City Council voted 11-0 to approve rules for the new participatory budgeting program, which has been in the works for a few years.
“I’m really excited to see this have another layer of getting off the ground and running,” council Vice President Catherine Emmanuelle said. “This is a very happy day and thank you for your work everybody.”
Emmanuelle traced the idea’s roots back to her early days on council nine years ago when she was saddened to see only one person speak at an annual budget hearing. Determined to get more residents involved in local politics and budgeting, she became the leading voice for creating a participatory budgeting program in Eau Claire.
In fall 2018, the council took the first steps toward creating a participatory budgeting program by designating up to $25,000 to hire a consultant to help Eau Claire create such an initiative. Starting with the 2000 budget, the council has allocated $100,000 annually as money for projects that will be decided by the participatory budgeting process.
“This is something that has been worked on for many years,” said Councilman Andrew Werthmann, who also supported the creation of the new initiative.
And progress on it slowed down during 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This program has been delayed by the pandemic for a full year,” said Ned Noel, the city’s senior planner.
That slowdown means the participatory budget fund will reach $300,000 next year when the first slate of projects suggested by the public goes to a vote.
Projects eligible for the money can include city building or park improvements, upgrades to infrastructure or the purchase of new equipment or vehicles — as long as they show a benefit to the public.
Following Tuesday’s council vote, Noel said the city will begin soliciting ideas from the public this month. Events to get volunteers to help with the new initiative are also being planned, he said.
Ideas submitted by Eau Claire residents this fall will be refined by city staff and outside experts to turn them into concrete project proposals during winter. In spring, those ideas will be presented during community meetings and put to a vote to see which ones will get funding.
The rulebook approved Tuesday establishes the council’s role as a neutral party that is not intended to sway public opinion toward one project or another.
“You’ve set forth the program, but the people will be able to move forward with the projects,” Noel said.
City manager search
Five council members will do the legwork for the search for the next city manager, but the entire 11-person council will decide which candidates become finalists.
President Terry Weld, Emmanuelle and council members Emily Anderson, Kate Beaton and Roderick Jones were appointed by their peers to serve on an ad hoc committee that will handle the initial stages of the city manager search.
That work includes updating recruitment materials, working with an executive search firm hired by the city and making regular progress reports back to the entire council.
According to the resolution that created the ad hoc committee, the group of five council members will be required to recommend potential finalists for the manager job by mid-January.
Once the pool of applicants for the city’s top position is winnowed below 10, the entire City Council will become involved in decisions to select candidates from there.
“The full council should be looking at 10 or fewer numbers,” Councilman David Klinkhammer said.
On Tuesday, the council also voted unanimously to hire Washington, D.C.-based executive search firm Polihire to handle the recruitment process for city manager candidates. That contract is priced at $38,000.
This is the city’s second attempt to replace Dale Peters, who retired as city manager in October. The previous search ended in February when the council’s preferred choice opted to take a job elsewhere.
• The council voted 11-0 to approve purchase of a new video system for squad cars, police interview rooms and body-worn cameras from Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Axon Enterprises. The contract would not only furnish Eau Claire city police with the equipment, but also the Eau Claire County Sheriff’s Office. Local nonprofit organization PESI has offered to pay for the equipment and annual costs through 2025 — a donation valued at about $950,000.