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OPINION - The coming debate over how Wausau will be governed

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Today it became certain that Wausau will have a full-throated debate over a City Administrator. Mayor Jim Tipple called a news conference and recommended that an outside consultant be hired to make recommendations.

As with so many things with Mayor Tipple, the idea a debate on how Wausau governs itself is noble. Alas, the execution is lousy. An expert consultant will become the loudest voice on the issue. This is an issue that the people of Wausau should decide.

There are three models of city government that will be debated. The first is the current system with an elected mayor and a city council. The second is a part-time mayor, a city council, and a city administrator who handles day-to-day functions at City Hall. A third choice is to do away with the mayor, and have the city run by the council and administrator.

There are examples of all three models working successfully. That's exactly why the will of the people should ultimately decide. If the city council and the mayor think they will decide this issue based on a report they commission, they are drunk on their own power. Some council members have even talked about hiring an emergency or interim administrator. That's presumptive and arrogant.

A consultant's recommendation in favor of one of the three options will short-circuit the debate and will ultimately sway public opinion. After all, an expert will have spoken. A better idea is to put the issue in front of the people first as a non-binding referendum. Once the public's preference is known, then hire a consultant to make recommendations on how the new system of governance might work. Then have a final vote, where residents would accept or reject the necessary changes to the city charter.

I've advocated that the current system with a strong mayor is best. An elected mayor is most accountable to Wausau's citizens. An administrator is unelected. They'll answer the city council. Other people have different opinions, and that's fine.

Why are we debating this change now? Because our current mayor is seen as failing by a growing number of people. That's a strong argument for keeping the current system in place. Those who dont like the job the mayor is doing can vote for someone else soon enough.

Wausau is a city of 39,000 people. Surely there are qualified people to serve as mayor. And surely those people -- not a consultant -- deserve to be heard about any changes to the way they are governed.

Chris Conley
7.23.14

IMAGE: Wausau Mayor Jim Tipple, via wsau.com