The addition of Roderick Jones to the Eau Claire City Council brings the body back up to full strength. We hope he’s as good as he appears to be.
Catherine Emmanuelle, the council’s vice-president, drew attention to Jones’ background. He worked as a farmhand, got his education and found a calling in academics. He’s an assistant professor now at UW-Eau Claire, following work at schools in Florida.
That’s a solid background for a council member. You don’t last long in education without finding ways to reach people of widely varying origins and abilities. Skills like that will serve Jones and, we hope, Eau Claire well.
If there’s a point of concern, it’s probably how new Jones is to Eau Claire. He arrived in 2019. There’s a depth of understanding in communities that can only come with time. Someone who has lived here for decades will simply have the experience of seeing the community develop, and that knowledge informs their views.
The flip side is that new people can bring new ideas. They may not have the same depth of institutional knowledge as others, but neither are they burdened with longstanding biases. At their best, new eyes can see in ways others can’t.
Jones won’t join the council immediately. He’s scheduled to be sworn in on June 21. He has a fair amount of work to do in the meantime. It’s almost impossible to really understand just how much work being a public official can be unless you’ve done it or watched government closely for years. There are boards and committees to serve on. Constituent concerns are a constant, and just knowing the machinery of government is a challenge.
The learning curve is steep, even for people who have a decent idea of what they’re getting into. We’ve heard some former members say it takes the better part of your first term just to get to grips with the job.
It’s enough, in many cases, to wonder why anyone would willingly take on the challenge. That brings us to what might be the most impressive thing about Jones’ appointment. He was one of nine candidates the council looked at.
There are communities that can’t find nine people to run for an entire council. We’ve heard of places where governments have to plead with people to even consider running or serving on boards. Eau Claire had nine people stick it out through the application and interview process, and two were impressive enough that every council member had them at the top of their lists.
Those nine people were not the only ones who expressed interest. Three others initially applied, only to withdraw for varying reasons. A solid dozen people responded when the city announced it would appoint someone to the seat vacated by Mai Xiong.
That’s a remarkable luxury for the city. It says something impressive about the people here and their willingness to step forward and try to solve the challenges we face. The Chippewa Valley isn’t perfect. But neither is anywhere else.
This part of Wisconsin has some distinct advantages compared to the rest of the state. While the state as a whole is aging and the growth rate lags behind that of others, Eau Claire County outpaces most of Wisconsin. So does Chippewa County. The difference is especially noticeable in comparison with most northwestern counties.
We live in an area with an energetic business culture and strong social institutions. The range of backgrounds and beliefs of those who live here lend the Chippewa Valley diversity more often found in much larger metropolitan areas.
That growth is certainly better than the alternative, but it will also bring challenges. Witness the sometimes rancorous debates over housing developments proposed for the area, or the differences in how people view our nation’s political divisions. We’ll need good leadership to navigate those challenges.
We wish Jones, and the rest of the council, luck.