Eau Claire is an extraordinary city, and we did not get this way by accident.
Community leaders have stepped up to grow a culture of civic engagement, so ordinary people can get involved and make a difference. This year, the Eau Claire City Council strengthened our tradition of civic engagement by voting to increase opportunities for public input at council meetings. Some council members began holding public listening sessions and helped form neighborhood associations. The council voted to start a Participatory Budgeting program to get people directly involved in making some decisions about public spending.
No city is perfect, but I value living in a city where leaders welcome people into the process. A recent “It Seems to Me” column in the Leader-Telegram concerned me. I respect the writer as a community leader. He’s always been available to sit down and talk through concerns with me (as have the current council members). However, I don’t understand why this writer, a community leader whom I respect, would spread misinformation about our city government.
In his column, he mischaracterized the council’s budget process. He described a civil public conversation as “bullying” (it wasn’t). He accused the council of limiting public input (when in fact, it has increased opportunities for input).
The council did its job in exercising oversight over the city manager’s budget. The problem seems to be that the council made budget decisions that the writer personally disagrees with. Just what were these decisions?
In addition to creating civic engagement opportunities, the council amended the city manager’s budget to make the city more proactive about the problem of poverty. Right now, tonight, there will be people sleeping on the streets in Eau Claire. That’s why the council amended the city manager’s budget to include a Smart Housing Program and fund a frontline position at the library to help our homeless neighbors. To help break the cycle of poverty, the council also funded a library position in early childhood literacy, which community members have called for. If we don’t make sure every kid is able to read, especially those who are at risk, it creates much bigger problems down the road, potentially for law enforcement and our courts. Let’s invest in our next generation so every child has an opportunity for a great future.
The column’s writer may think spending on a new ice edger and a three-year warranty on defibrillators is more important than housing programs or services for those who need them most. I disagree — but I believe we should able to disagree without spreading misinformation or slinging mud. I expect all leaders to show integrity. I was disappointed that the writer, a leader I respect, would attempt to mislead the public.
What’s frustrating is he takes something technically true, a $25,000 reduction in downtown parking enforcement, and wildly mischaracterizes the impact. What he neglected to say was not one person who testified at the public hearing could point to the previous year’s $25,000 increase and say it had actually done anything to solve downtown parking problems. Why shouldn’t an ineffective program be cut?
He also failed to mention the council voted to fund a $75,000 comprehensive parking study to come up with long-term solutions. I live in the Third Ward, where parking is a problem. I would much rather the council cut out Band-Aid parking solutions and invest in building a comprehensive solution.
It seems to me the writer disagrees with council members representing the people — rather than simply rubber stamping every decision recommended by city management. Eau Claire is lucky to have elected leaders who have a vision for their community — a vision the people who voted for them expect them to fight for. Elected leaders do not work for the city management; they work for us, so naturally, their point of view might differ from that of management.
I understand the writer might see things differently. He might see the role of a council member as less visionary and more as a functionary or figurehead. That’s OK. We need lots of different kinds of leaders — but all our leaders should show integrity.
The misleading op-ed seems to forget that the City Council was elected by our community and it is taking bold action to make sure our city has an agenda that works for everyone.
Francis, of Eau Claire, managed state Sen.-elect Jeff Smith’s campaign.