2021 Chippewa Valley Rally Week
Feb 22-25 Virtual Event
Presented by the Chippewa Valley Chamber Alliance
Chippewa Falls * Eau Claire * Menomonie
For 26 years, Chippewa Valley business and community leaders have traveled to Madison each winter to visit lawmakers in the State Capitol to advocate for our region's economic priorities. In February 2020, more than 100 people participated in this annual event organized by the Chippewa Falls, Eau Claire, and Menomonie Chambers of Commerce.
Because of restrictions on large groups and the need for safe practices amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Rally will look a bit different in 2021. Plans are now coming together for a virtual event, probably including a combination of events over several days the week of February 22. But just as always, it will bring critical area priorities to policy makers as decisions are made about the 2021-23 state budget.
How it will work
The 2021 Chippewa Valley Rally will take place virtually in bite-sized portions over Monday-Thursday, Feb 22-25. There will also be an optional advance issues briefing on Friday, Feb 19. The event will kick-off with two sessions for all attendees on Monday afternoon, then continue with a variety of sessions and small group legislative visits on the mornings and lunch hour on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. All events will be conducted via Zoom.
What registration includes
* Access to various all-attendee events, including presentations from the Governor (invited), legislative leaders, cabinet secretaries and policy experts.
* Advance issues briefings and advance information on the 2021 key issues being presented by the Chippewa Valley Chamber Alliance
* Legislative visits: You’ll be asked to participate as part of a small team in 3-5 total virtual visits with legislators (scheduled with 30-min time slots), which will be scheduled in the mornings on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, based upon your availability. (After you sign up, you’ll be contacted to confirm your schedule availability. Each visit will be led by an experienced team leader.)
* Registration this year is just $39 per participant, since we will not have transportation, facility and food expenses.
Click here to register
Events times subject to change and will be updated as schedules are confirmed
Friday, Feb 19
11:00 a.m. Advance Issues Briefing and Q&A
Monday, Feb 22
1:00 p.m. Issues Briefing and Q&A (same content as Friday)
2:30 p.m. All-attendees event (topics and speakers to be announced)
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Feb 23-25
8:00 a.m. All-attendees event (topics and speakers to be announced)
9:00-12:00 Legislative small group visits
Participants will be assigned to 3-5 total visits, in 30-min. time slots, Tue, Wed, or Thu based upon your availability (In other words, a total of 1 ½ to 2 ½ hours in legislative visits over the three days)
12:00 noon All-attendees event (topics and speakers to be announced)
More information will be available soon and this page will be updated. You can click here to register now. If you have questions or comments in the meantime, contact Scott Rogers at: email@example.com
Chippewa & St Croix Valley Rail Connections move closer to reality
Two initiatives that would provide passenger rail connections to the Chippewa and St. Croix Valleys have taken important steps forward in recent weeks. They include:
Map from the Wisconsin Rail Plan: Long range vision for passenger rail (WisDOT)
Starting with Twin Cities-Eau Claire trains
The West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition has been working for several years to lay the groundwork to establish passenger train service serving the region with trains to the Twin Cities, Milwaukee and Chicago to ensure the area's economic competitiveness. Those connections are included in the official long-range transportation plans for both Wisconsin and Minnesota. As a first step, the coalition is proposing a public-private partnership to start with four trains a day each way between St. Paul and Eau Claire, with shuttle connections to other nearby communities like River Falls and Chippewa Falls. See map below...
West Central Wisconsin train and route
Trains will travel over the tracks of the Union Pacific Railroad with potential stops for Stillwater, Hudson/River Falls, Baldwin, and Menomonie. The Coalition is working with a private rail developer interested in providing the equipment and operating the trains, with ongoing costs provided by fares and the economic activity around station sites.
Next step: Chippewa-St. Croix Rail Commission
To advance the public side of the project, counties and municipalities along and near the route are working on establishing a Chippewa-St. Croix Rail Commission to identify the public benefits of the project, pursue opportunities for transit oriented station development, foster bi-state cooperation, and help the project obtain grant funding for start-up costs. Resolutions to create the commission have already been passed by the Dunn, Eau Claire, and St. Croix County Boards; the City of Eau Claire, the City of Altoona, The City of Menomonie, and the Village of Baldwin. Other entities are in the process of considering their participation. Once at least eight counties and municipalities approve similar resolutions, the commission will be created. See the links below for more information on the project and to see Eau Claire County's resolution for establishing the commission.
West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition website
Fact Sheet: Bringing Passenger Rail to West Central Wisconsin (click to download)
Eau Claire County Resolutions Re: Chippewa-St. Croix Rail Commission (passed Dec 15, 2020, click to download)
Group hopes to bring passenger rail service back to Chippewa Valley (WEAU 13 News)
Eau Claire sets its sights on passenger rail with new Rail Commission (WQOW News 18)
Rail advocates push for independent body (Leader-Telegram, subscription required)
Eastward connections to Milwaukee and Chicago
Given the vision to link the region east to Milwaukee and Chicago, another development make progress in recent weeks that would provide a dedicated shuttle connection from Eau Claire to access Amtrak trains at Tomah.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) announced it has received two federal grants that will enable it to implement plans with the Minnesota Department of Transportation to extend one of its popular Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha trains on the current Amtrak "Empire Builder" route to Tomah, La Crosse, Winona, Minnesota and St. Paul. That plan could include dedicated shuttle connections from that route to Madison, Eau Claire and Rochester.
WisDOT map showing shuttle connections for the Twin Cities Hiawatha extension
Many Chippewa Valley area residents already drive to Tomah to catch the current Amtrak service, but a dedicated shuttle will improve mobility for those who cannot or do not want to drive. Shuttle connections like these have been successful in other states like California and North Carolina. WisDOT also recently established dedicated shuttles to link the current Hiawatha service at Milwaukee to Fond du Lac, Oshkosh, Appleton, and Green Bay.
The grants announced by WisDOT from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) include a $16.2 million Restoration & Enhancement Grant, which helps new services get established by paying a declining percentage of the operating expenses over three years as ridership builds, and a $31.8 million matching grant to help cover capital improvement costs.
Local support for Eau Claire shuttle
As WisDOT began consideration of the Eau Claire shuttle, local support for the connection was expressed in resolutions and letters from the Eau Claire City Council, Eau Claire County Board, Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce, and West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition.
The proposed Eau Claire shuttle would travel along I-94 and make a direct connection to trains at the Amtrak station in Tomah. The West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition, which is working to establish a multi-frequency Twin Cities-Eau Claire corridor as a public-private partnership on the tracks of the Union Pacific Railroad, has endorsed the proposal as a complementary step to provide residents of the region access to the national passenger train network.
In a resolution it drafted earlier this year the Coalition noted that many people already drive to the station at Tomah: "This would open up more travel opportunities for area residents and visitors to connect to/from Milwaukee and Chicago via Tomah, and would especially provide improved mobility for students, seniors and others who cannot or do not want to drive 80 miles to access the service." In a letter to WisDOT Secretary Craig Thompson, the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce noted: "Transportation is a critical component for economic prosperity. The Chamber has long advocated for establishing passenger rail service to our region as an important component for economic competitiveness and talent attraction," and that the shuttle "would enhance the connectivity of our community and be complementary to efforts to obtain future direct train service for Eau Claire." The Eau Claire City Council passed a supporting resolution on February 25, and the Eau Claire County Board on May 5. See the links below.
Next steps for the Hiawatha extension and shuttle
WisDOT, MnDOT, and Amtrak are working on schedules and operating scenarios for the new train project, and Minnesota's legislature must still appropriate its needed $10 million in matching funds for the capital expenses, which is expected to be considered during its 2021 session.
’Second Empire Builder’ project wins a $12.6 million Restoration & Enhancement grant (MIPRC)
Wisconsin-Minnesota passenger rail project getting $31.8 million federal grant (La Crosse Tribune)
Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago Intercity Passenger Rail Service (WisDOT)
Eau Claire-Tomah Shuttle Fact Sheet (West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition)
Eau Claire Chamber of Commerce Letter in support of CRISI grant (Eau Claire Chamber)
Eau Claire City Council Resolution (City of Eau Claire)
Eau Claire County Board Resolution (Eau Claire County)
West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition Letter and Resolution (West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition)
Long-term opportunities for high speed Chicago-Milwaukee-Twin Cities service
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is nearing completion of a Midwest Regional Rail Planning Study that is expected to show the Chicago-Twin Cities corridor to be one of the strongest potential high speed rail markets in the Midwest because of its high travel demand. With current bullet-train style projects advancing in California, Texas and LA-Las Vegas, there is significant potential for Eau Claire and the region to be located on one of the next high speed rail lines to be developed.
FRA Midwest Regional Rail Planning Study
Update: Local Health Ordinances
Back-up Mask Ordinance advances to Eau Claire City Council and County Board
The Eau Claire City Council and the Eau Claire County board are expected to vote in February on companion ordinances that would implement a local mask mandate if and when a statewide mask mandate is no longer in effect.
The move comes after the proposal was endorsed at a January 12 joint meeting of the Eau Claire City-County Board of Health and the Eau Claire County Administration Committee. The next steps: First reading notices at the January 19 County Board meeting and the January 26 City Council meeting, then votes on February 9 at the City Council and February 17 at the County Board.
Note that this is a significantly different proposal than the broader communicable disease ordinance that was considered last fall, of which both the City Council and County Board postponed consideration. More explanation below. First, here are the details about the current proposal:
Why the new local ordinance is being proposed and what it would do
In proposing the ordinances, local health and elected officials cite the value of mask wearing in slowing the spread of the COVID-19 virus. There is currently a statewide mandate in place, ordered by Governor Tony Evers, who on January 19 extended the order another 60 days to March 20. However, there is a case pending before the Wisconsin Supreme Court, where the plaintiffs are arguing that the Governor does not have the authority to issue multiple emergency orders based upon the same disease. Should the Supreme Court strike down the state mandate, local proponents want a back up local ordinance to be able to continue the requirement to wear masks in Eau Claire County.
The proposed ordinance is written so that it will take effect only if the state order is vacated by the court or not extended by the Governor. It would require mask wearing, with specified exceptions, in indoor enclosed spaces, other than a private residence, where "Another person or persons who are not members of the individual’s household or living unit are present in the same room or enclosed space." It would also mandate that building with public access "post a notice at their entrance that face coverings are required." It has a sunset date of June 30. To meet the requirements of state statutes, both the Eau Claire City County and County Board would have to pass mandates to ensure the mandate is in effect throughout the county.
Click here to read the actual proposed ordinance (Eau Claire County)
Evers Will Extend Mask Mandate As DHS Reports 2,269 COVID-19 Cases (WPR)
Gov. Evers Announces New Public Health Emergency, Issues New Face Coverings Order as State Continues Vaccine Distribution (News release)
Effectiveness of masks asserted
The first step in the process of enacting the ordinance required it to be considered by the Board of Health and the County Administration Committee, who held a joint meeting on January 12, and approved taking it as direct legislation to the local elected bodies, the Eau Claire City Council and Eau Claire County Board. During the discussion, Board of Health member Dr. Don Bodeau, an occupational health physician with over 30 years experience in respiratory issues, asserted that the ordinance is "the right thing to do from a public health perspective."
"The CDC has reviewed 45 high quality studies that document something better than a 70% protection," said Dr. Bodeau. " It’s a two-way protection, both control from the source and control from the user. It’s also well documented that asymptomatic spread, people who do not have symptoms at the time, are responsible for creating and spreading 50 to 60 percent of the new cases. These are people who are not sick today and do not know that they will become sick tomorrow or the next day. Then retroactively we track down those contacts and we find out they have infected a whole host of people. It’s also quite clear that when measures like this are undertaken new infections fall significantly and that businesses are more able to reopen, and the need for lock downs and more stringent legal control mechanisms are reduced. By going with a mask ordinance like this, we can actually maintain our public health, we can maintain our business community, and we can move forward in what can turn out to be the most graceful way possible as we wait for our vaccinations to reach that threshold of herd immunity."
Video Recording: Jan 12 Joint Meeting - Eau Claire City-County Board of Health and Eau Claire County Administration Committee (Eau Claire County)
Board of Health, county Administration Committee approve local mask ordinance (Leader-Telegram)
Mayo Clinic research confirms critical role of masks in preventing COVID-19 infection (Mayo Clinic Health System)
Organizers optimistic for summer events in the Chippewa Valley (WEAU 13 News)
Input sought from the Chamber and other stakeholders
In November, at the request of local public officials, a survey of customer-facing businesses was conducted by the Chamber and Downtown Eau Claire Inc. Of those responding, 74% said mandatory wearing of face masks would be reasonable to include if a local health order was enacted.
Before finalizing the proposed ordinance, city and county officials on December 21 sent the draft to health institutions, education institutions, business organizations, elected officials and the Chippewa Valley Economic Recovery Task Force, with an explanation of the purpose of the ordinance and requesting response by January 2. Chamber staff forwarded the request to our Board of Directors and members of our Governmental Affairs Committee. Based upon their responses, we submitted feedback that included clarification that individuals working alone are not required to wear a mask, and that the primary responsibility of businesses and organizations with public access is to post a sign. The original draft had a sunset date of September 30, which we suggested was too long. The final version subsequently shortened the sunset date to June 30. The Chamber has not taken a position on the mask ordinance, and encourages its investors who are interested to participate in the public comment process.
What's next in the process and how you can comment
Based upon regular local legislative processes, the ordinances require a "first reading," or notice that they will be up for consideration, at a regular meeting of each body preceding the one at which action will be taken. Those are January 19 for the County Board and January 26 for the City Council. The City Council will have a public discussion at its regular Public Hearing meeting at 7 p.m. on Monday, February 8, then vote at its Legislative Session at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, February 9. The Eau Claire County Board will vote at its meeting at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, February 17.
News release outlining legislative process and public comment options (City of Eau Claire & Eau Claire County)
FAQs and links to County Board and City Council sites (Eau Claire County)
How this is different than the ordinance that was proposed and postponed last fall
In mid-September, the administrations of the City of Eau Claire and Eau Claire County introduced companion local health ordinances intended to clarify the role of the local health officer related to orders of general applications regarding communicable diseases and to provide for enforcement mechanisms. These were broad ordinances that dealt with the powers of the health officer and the legislative oversight of local elected officials.
Full text of both ordinances (September 2020, Board of Health)
The Chamber's position: The Chamber Board of Directors voted on October 5 to ask the city and county to withdraw the original proposed ordinances. We believed the ordinances as drafted embody policy decisions that were not arrived at with a community consensus. Among them, we believe the proposed legislative oversight was too passive and weak, the expectations and limits on enforcement need more clarity, and circumstances under which closure of whole categories of businesses could be ordered must be more clearly delineated, if allowed at all. These and the other policy questions within the ordinance would be better served if they were arrived at with input from the business community, educational institutions, health care organizations and others.
Click here to download and read the Chamber's full statement.
(The Chamber has not taken a position on the mask ordinance, and encourages its investors who are interested to participate in the public comment process. See more below.)
City of Eau Claire: At its Legislative Session on October 13, the Eau Claire City Council voted 10-1 to postpone action on the city version of the proposed health ordinance, instead creating a task force to get more community input and consensus before being brought back later. The action came after over two hours of debate and discussion, much of it reflecting the kinds of concerns about the process and content of the ordinance that were raised by the Chamber and others. The motion was proposed by Council Vice President Catherine Emmanuelle.
Voting Yes on postponement (consistent with the Chamber’s position): Emily Anderson, Emily Berge, Jill Christopherson, Catherine Emmanuelle, Jeremy Gragert, David Klinkhammer, John Lor, Terry Weld, Andrew Werthmann, Mai Xiong;
Voting No: Kate Beaton
Contact information: City Council members (City of Eau Claire)
Eau Claire County: At its October 20 meeting, the Eau Claire County Board of Supervisors voted 17-12 to approve a motion, proposed by Supervisor Gary Gibson, to postpone consideration of the County version of the ordinance and work with the city to on a task force. Roll Call:
Voting Yes on postponement (consistent with the Chamber’s position): Carl Anton (Dist 5), Mark Beckfield (21), Steve Chilson (7), Missy Christopherson (29), Kimberly Cronk (28), Gary Gibson (1), Chris Hambuch-Boyle (16), Melissa Janssen (25), Robin Leary (23), Donald Mowry (9), Stella Pagonis (4), Nick Smiar (15), Kevin Stelljes (8), Zoe Roberts (27), Connie Russell (13), Gerald Wilkie (19), Dane Zook (6).
Voting No: Nathan Anderson (Dist 20), Colleen Bates (12), Nancy Coffey (10), Heather Deluka (24), Jim Dunning (18), Judy Gatlin (14), Ray Henning (11), Joe Knight (3), Sandra Mckinney (2), Martha Nieman (17), Katherine Schneider (22), Tami Schraufnagel (26).
How to find and contact your County Board member (Eau Claire County)
What's different and what's next
The latest back-up mask mandate is different because it is direct legislation that will be voted upon by elected bodies before taking effect. It is also narrowly written for a specific period of time with mask wearing being its only focus. It does not create any new powers for the health officer or others. As noted previously, the Chamber has not taken a position on the mask ordinance, and encourages its investors who are interested to participate in the public comment process.
Task force being constituted
As promised when the previous ordinances were postponed, County Board Chair Nick Smiar and City Council President Terry Weld have appointed a task force that will be charged with reviewing the need for an ordinance to deal with future communicable disease emergencies. That task force expected to begin meeting soon, but its work is not anticipated to have an impact on the management of the current pandemic. The Chamber will keep its investors updated as that process moves forward.
Posted by Scott Rogers, Governmental Affairs Director
Eau Claire Chamber to Governor Evers, Legislators: UWEC Science Building funding critical to economic future of the region
As Governor Tony Evers and the Wisconsin Legislature develop the new 2021-23 biennial state budget, The Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce has written the Governor, strongly encouraging the inclusion of the second phase funding of the Science & Health Sciences Building at UW-Eau Claire.
“There is no other current project that is more important to the future of our regional economy and workforce than this urgently needed replacement for the aging and outdated Phillips Hall,” asserts the letter, signed by Chamber Board Chair Scott Biederman and President/CEO Dave Minor.
The letter points out that the new building goes beyond the direct benefit to the UWEC Campus because it includes a planned research collaboration with Mayo Clinic Health System, will spark innovation and new business spin offs, enhances the ability to attract and retain talent, and will be the site of a new Blugold Center for High Performance Computing in partnership with Hewlett Packard Enterprise.
Two years ago, the 2019-21 State Budget included $209 million for the first phase funding of the project, with the understanding that the second phase would be funding would be provided in the 2021-23 budget so UWEC could achieve its goal to design a unified, efficient building, thereby allowing for a shortened construction timeline, cost savings for taxpayers, and timely completion to successfully realize all of its potential benefits.
The project has garnered bi-partisan support among Chippewa Valley area legislators, many of whom have cited it as the top area priority for the new legislative session.
See the letter below...
Jan 12 Chamber/UW-Eau Claire Breakfast: Chancellor James Schmidt thanks the local community and looks forward to an increase of new students in fall 2021
On Tuesday, January 12 the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce and University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire hosted the annual Business Community Breakfast virtually this year. The event was streamed via Perigon at WIN Technology and included a State of the University report from Chancellor James Schmidt as well as a panel composed of faculty, staff, and students who shared details about new initiatives and plans UW-Eau Claire has for the future. During the State of the University report, Chancellor Schmidt discussed the university’s quick response to COVID, challenges the university will face in upcoming years, and a few points of pride for UW-Eau Claire.
The Chancellor began his report thanking the Chamber and the community saying, “there isn’t a single thing the Chippewa Valley can’t accomplish if we respect each other as partners and neighbors, and work together.” Through efforts such as the Chamber’s advocacy with legislators in Madison and Washington D.C., the Chippewa Valley Economic Recovery Task Force, and continued advocacy for replacing Phillips Hall on campus, he has continually seen the local community’s positivity and determination to succeed.
UW-Eau Claire's successful fall semester
This past fall saw the university working hard with the community to develop effective COVID mitigation protocols to keep everyone safe during the unprecedented fall semester. Through virtual career fairs and a team of advisors to help students navigate online classes, the university has continued to connect students to local businesses and help students develop skills for life after college. The university saw extremely high student compliance with mitigation steps on campus, making it through three months of in-person classes before moving online out of precaution after Thanksgiving break.
In addition to challenges brought by COVID, UW-Eau Claire has financial challenges to plan for. The Chancellor referenced a study from the Brookings Institute which found that not a single university saw any real growth in per-student appropriations between 2006 and 2017. In Wisconsin, state funding for higher education fell by more than 33% between 2000 and 2019. The university also expects a decreased number of high school students around the year 2025.
This decrease in state funding, tuition freezes, and prospective students has forced UW-Eau Claire to come up with new strategies to recruit and retain new students. This has involved developing a more strategic marketing campaign to reach incoming students and continuing to become a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive campus.
Science building developments
The Chancellor is also hopeful that the new science building will recruit the best and brightest students to the Chippewa Valley. Plans for the new science building to replace Phillips Hall continues to remain a focus of the university. With developments for a new science building underway and an exciting new partnership with Mayo Clinic, the Chancellor is confident UW-Eau Claire will enhance its reputation in the Midwest.
UW-Eau Claire's accomplishments
With plans to address current and future challenges in place, Chancellor Schmidt acknowledged a few of UW-Eau Claire’s accomplishments. The university was once again, named the top school in Wisconsin and Minnesota as being the best for veterans. It was also ranked number 3 in the United States and number 1 in Wisconsin as being the best school for LGBTQ students and the best in Wisconsin for LGBTQ students.
The new learning and teaching environment
The panel of faculty, staff, and students addressed the anticipated decrease in enrollment, the new learning and teaching environment for students and faculty, and the newly implemented training for equity, diversity, and inclusion. Billy Felz, the Interim Executive Director of Enrollment Management, explained that UW-Eau Claire has partnered with a consulting firm to increase and improve the university’s advertising to Incoming students by uniquely targeting students based on their personality. Applications are now up over 50% compared to last year. Lauren Becker, a student at UW-Eau Claire and Director of the Student Office of Sustainability explained that the current learning environment has seen much grace from both the instructors and the students. While virtual learning is not bad, it is a different environment than usual requiring much adjustment. Dr. Louisa Rice, professor and chair of the History department, agreed with Becker explaining that teaching during the pandemic has required faculty members to go from in-person to online, and at times, a little of both. However, Dr. Rice is proud of the way instructors have risen to these challenges and still created meaningful relationships with students.
New university developments
Members of the panel also discussed some developments going on within the university. Becker said the Sustainability and Climate Action task force has a vision to make UW-Eau Claire the most sustainable university in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Dr. Rice has been working with other faculty members to incorporate the humanities and the sciences to create a certificate on holistic medicine that would incorporate not just the science of health but also the whole person. Dang Yang, the Director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, explained that while equity, diversity, and inclusion training has currently been focused on faculty and staff, this training will begin for students this next fall. The university is also working with Alumni and local partnerships to extend equity, diversity, and inclusion to make the Eau Claire community more inclusive and diverse.
Chancellor Schmidt concluded the event by saying, "our community has tackled the pandemic together and we look to continue to collaborate." The interdependence between UW-Eau Claire and the local community has created a sense of unity few business communities and public universities have.
Video Recording: 2021 Chamber/UWEC Breakfast (Perigon)
UW Eau-Claire looks to bolster Blugold enrollment (WEAU 13 News)
The 2021 Chamber/UW-Eau Claire Breakfast was sponsored by EO Johnson Business Technologies, Market & Johnson, Inc., Mayo Clinic Health System-Luther Campus, McDonough Manufacturing Company, Northwestern Bank, and Perigon sponsors Prevail Bank and Royal Credit Union.
Posted by Grace Hanson, Governmental Affairs Intern
Spring Election: April 6, 2021
Spring Primary: February 16, 2021
(No primary is needed for the local elections)
While it may feel as though the fall election has just recently passed, the spring election is already on its way. Unlike the fall election, the spring election is non-partisan and will include both local and state races. This year, the election falls on April 6. Although no primary is needed for the local Eau Claire and Altoona races, there will be a primary held on February 16 for the Wisconsin State Superintendent and 3rd Court of Appeals races.
Eau Claire City Council
In Eau Claire, there are five city council seats up for election. The Eau Claire City Council is made up of ten City Council members and one City Council president. Each member is elected for a 3-year term. Five members are elected from aldermanic districts and five members are elected at large. The City Council President is also elected at large. The five district seats are the only positions up for election this spring.
All five incumbents are seeking reelection. Councilwomen Emily Berge and Jill Christopherson do not have any challengers for their districts. However, councilmembers Emily Anderson, Jeremy Gragert, and Andrew Werthmann are running against challengers Kyle Woodman, Josh Stanley, and Gabriel Schlieve respectively.
Altoona City Council
In Altoona, three city council seats are up for election. The Altoona City Council is made up of six City Council members and one mayor. Each member is elected for a 2-year term. In even number years districts 1, 2, 3, and the Mayor position are up for election. This year, districts 4, 5, and 6 are up for election.
All three incumbents are seeking reelection and are running unopposed.
Eau Claire School Board
The Eau Claire School Board has a total of seven members. Six are elected for 3-year terms and one is elected for a 1-year term. This year, three seats are up for election and the 1-year term will be given to the candidate who receives the third-largest number of votes.
All three incumbents are seeking reelection and face one challenger, Kathleen Kivlin.
Altoona School Board
The Altoona School Board has a total of 5 members that are each elected for 3-year terms. This year, only one seat is up for election. Incumbent Rick Risler is seeking reelection and is running unopposed.
Wisconsin State Superintendent
The Wisconsin State Superintendent is elected to oversee and provide leadership for the public school districts across the state. Superintendents are elected to serve a 4-year term. This year, seven candidates are running for this position. The primary on February 16 will narrow this list down to the two candidates who received the most votes. In the general election on April 6, voters will elect a Superintendent from the top two candidates.
3rd Court of Appeals
The Wisconsin Court of Appeals is the state’s intermediate appellate court and is composed of sixteen judges from four districts. Elected judges serve a 6-year term. The Eau Claire Area is in the 3rd district and will choose from four candidates in the February 16 primary. The two candidates who receive the most votes will move on to the general election.
Posted by Grace Hanson, Governmental Affairs Intern
Dec 18 Virtual Eggs & Issues: UWEC Science Building, workforce, mental health among top priorities of area legislators
Left: Senators Kathy Bernier and Jeff Smith speak with Scott Rogers and Jennifer McHugh
Right: (Clockwise) Reps. Jodie Emerson, Warren Petryk, Rob Summerfield, Jesse James
Each December, the Eau Claire Area’s monthly Eggs and Issues program brings the business community and local representatives together to offer a glimpse of what the upcoming legislative session will bring. Despite the challenges this year has brought with the pandemic, this December is no different. While in a slightly different format, the Eau Claire Chamber invited members of the State Senate and Assembly who represent the Chippewa Valley to join virtually for a preview of the session and a discussion of top priorities that will impact the region. Among those participating include Senators Kathy Bernier (R-Lake Hallie) and Jeff Smith (D-Eau Claire); Representatives Jodi Emerson (D-Eau Claire), Jesse James (R-Altoona), Warren Petryk (R-Eleva) and Rob Summerfield (R-Bloomer); and Representatives-elect Clint Moses (R-Menomonie), Dave Armstrong (R-Rice Lake) and Donna Rozar (R-Marshfield). Hosting the discussion were the Chamber's Governmental Affairs Committee Chair, Jennifer McHugh, VP of Public Engagement for Royal Credit Union, and the Chamber's Governmental Affairs Director, Scott Rogers.
Top priorities of Senators
The program began with Senators Kathy Bernier and Jeff Smith explaining their top priorities as they enter the new legislative session scheduled to begin in January. Senator Bernier has just been appointed to the Joint Finance Committee. She explained that her top priorities will be deeply involved in the budget process. The senator also plans to meet with the elections commission to discuss fine tuning election laws. Senator Bernier also considers mental healthcare to be front and center and hopes to get the behavior center up and running in HSHS sooner rather than later.
Senator Jeff Smith explained that this year has illustrated the deep need for broadband expansion. He recognizes this requires government cooperation with private industries and desires to see this cooperation take place. Non-partisan redistricting reform is also a priority of the senator. He hopes the Democratic governor and Republican legislature will work together to draw district lines fairly.
The UW-Eau Claire Science Building
The two senators also discussed the current status of the UW-Eau Claire science building. The building is a critical part of developing the Eau Claire area economy, and the partnership with Mayo would make Western Wisconsin a top leader in rural health and research. Senator Smith explained that funding and finalizing the development plans was his top budget request when he met with Governor Tony Evers. Although Senator Smith is concerned that COVID-related pressures could affect the state budget, he asserted that this is a pressing issue and will continue to fight for it to move forward. Senator Bernier considers the project a top priority and will work for it when the Joint Finance Committee deals with the state budget. She recognized the challenges presented by the UW System not including the project in its current budget request, but intends to "fight the system" if necessary.
How can we see more bipartisanship in the legislature?
The Senators were also asked how they might encourage bipartisanship in the Legislature as this past year has been long and difficult for all Wisconsinites. Senator Bernier recognized the philosophical differences that come from working in a two-party system. However, despite parting ways on these philosophical issues, legislators are united by the needs of constituents. Senator Smith also recognized the importance of developing relationships outside of their own region or committee group. He explained that having conversations outside of the sometimes bitter and partisan environment could improve relationships in the legislature.
How does the legislature intend to address the pandemic?
Senator Smith explained that both sides desire to help address this public health and economic crisis that the current pandemic has created. However, all legislators are at the mercy of the Majority Leader in the Senate, the Speaker in the Assembly, and the Governor’s office. While Senator Smith hopes everyone is on the same page and providing aid can be a bipartisan effort, these leaders may not be in as much of a hurry as the rest of the Legislature. Senator Bernier agreed, saying that although they have freed up extra dollars in the budget for the Governor to utilize for COVID relief, when it comes to calling a session, that is completely up to the Speaker and the Majority leader. Both are anxious for the pandemic to go away so that they can begin to work on things they are more familiar with and passionate about.
Newly elected members of the Assembly
The newly elected members of the assembly provided a brief introduction of themselves and explained any specific things they would like to see in Madison. Representative-elect Dave Armstrong has lived in the Rice Lake area since 2005. As Director of the Barron County Economic Development Corporation, he has experience working on housing bills and workforce issues and decided he would like to do that work in Madison, as well. At the time of the event, Assembly committee assignments had not yet been confirmed by Speaker Robin Vos. Armstrong has requested to be on the Workforce, Economic Development, Rural Development, or Community Development committees. Representative-elect Clint Moses has served on many local boards and is currently on the School Board in Menomonie. He has always been interested in politics and has been involved with his county party for some time. Moses has requested to be on the Rural Development, Agriculture and Environment, Healthcare, or Education committees. Representative-elect Donna Rozar is a small business owner, Registered Nurse and retired RN instructor. She chose to run because of retiring Representative Kulp called asking her because he believed she had a number of experiences that would be beneficial to the Assembly.
When the new Assembly members arrive in Madison, Armstrong explained that he hopes to see more done for affordable housing. Moses wants to make sure the environment is good for both small and large businesses and welcoming for new businesses. Rozar hopes to address workforce shortages and public partnerships.
Top priorities of Assembly Members
Returning members of the Assembly also look forward to beginning the new legislative session this January. Representative Jodi Emerson explained that her top priorities are to get COVID under control and then help the state and local communities rebound. After the new census data is received, she also intends to draw the maps in the fairest, most equitable way possible. Representative Warren Petryk said that overall, investing and encouraging economic development would be his top priorities. Using attraction, retention, and training, he hopes to attract people to the state, retain them through a good business environment, and train them with good business training. Representative Jesse James said his top priority was to get out of his comfort zone. Now that he is entering his second term in office, he hopes to build new relationships and have conversations with new people. Representative Rob Summerfield wants to see businesses open fully once again. He knows many of his constituents are struggling to get by, and he would like to minimize the fear of the unknown.
Mental health initiatives
Representative James has been very concerned with the mental health of both the children in Wisconsin and the public safety officers. He shared ideas such as making mental health services available online and having social workers available at schools to create relationships with students. Representative Emerson was also excited that both sides have come together for the HSHS agreement but notes that while this helps those who are severely suffering, there is still a shortage of mental healthcare professionals. As a result, it is important they find ways to prevent mental health problems from starting in the first place.
According to Representative Petryk, workforce development is his number one concern. In order to see good economic recovery after the events of this year, wise decisions and being prudent with the budget is crucial. Petryk also explained he wants to see recovery and further development of the workforce without increasing the tax burden and creating additional bureaucratic regulations on businesses.
Representative Summerfield has been focusing on workforce housing and also considers broadband expansion to be an issue. Both Representatives Petryk and Summerfield recognize the importance of furthering and developing skills in the workforce and believe keeping the education system strong will provide opportunities for students to discover new areas where they might like to work one day.
Local legislators want UWEC building money in next state budget (Leader-Telegram$)
Mental health, COVID relief among top priorities for local lawmakers (WQOW News 18)
Meet the Freshman Assembly Representatives (Hamilton Consulting)
Wisconsin Legislature website
$ - media site with subscription required
Posted by Grace Hanson, Governmental Affairs Intern
On Tuesday, December 8, the Eau Claire City Council voted to accept the City of Eau Claire Comprehensive Parking Study. The report passed unanimously in a 10-0 vote with Councilman John Lor absent from the meeting. The parking study focused on three areas within Eau Claire and analyzed the current use of parking in the city, the city’s parking operations, parking restrictions and rates, and the city’s parking supply and demand. While Councilman Jeremy Gragert did raise some concerns about the study, he also acknowledged some recommendations would prove helpful to the city.
The study provided short-term, mid-term, and long-term recommendations for Eau Claire's parking management. For the short-term, the study recommends the city dedicate a full-time parking manager, revamp their parking policies and procedures, conduct a market rate study, and create a dedicating parking web page and a branding and marketing campaign. For the mid-term, the study recommends the city establish a parking leadership structure to combine parking and enforcement, strategic planning for the Gibson/Farewell Garage Removal, web-based mapping utilizing GIS, updates of ordinances to include residential parking programs, and a Downtown parking asset inventory. Finally, for the long-term, the study recommends the city put together a strategic plan for 5+ years out that includes establishing ordinance updates and construction phasing and parker impact assessment for the Gibson/Farewell Garage Demolition.
WGI began the study in March of 2019. It was noted that the parking study was conducted when the City Hall was being remodeled, and therefore, not fully occupied. It focused on three areas within Eau Claire. Area 1 is the Downtown/Riverfront District, Area 2 is the Third Ward Neighborhood District, and Area 3 is the Water Street, Historic Randall Park, and Cannery District. WGI also conducted public listening sessions for each of the three areas studied in Eau Claire and an online survey.
Using the guidelines provided by WGI, the City of Eau Claire took inventory of the total weekday parking available in the three study areas. Morning, afternoon, and evening were the three observation times of the study. Industry standards consider parking to be effectively full when parking is above 85% capacity. In all three areas, the average peak occurred during the morning hours. In the Downtown/Riverfront District area parking was considered low, or 0-50% occupied. In the Third Ward Neighborhood District, however, parking was effectively full near the university but low in the north and east parts of the neighborhood. Finally, in the Water Street, Historic Randall Park, and Cannery District, parking occupancy was clustered. Parking lots were considered medium, or 51-75% occupied, but were effectively full near the County Courthouse. There was also a low occupancy for on-street parking in this area while being effectively full near the University, County Government Center, and the Mayo Clinic Health Systems.
The three public listening studies found a common concern of the lack of parking enforcement for on-street parking. The Downtown/Riverfront District had several questions about the future of the Gibson/Farewell Garage and the impact it would have on the parking supply. Institutional parking enforcement into Third Ward and Historical Randall Park Neighborhood was also a concern.
The online survey had a notable 1,542 respondents. The survey found that 30% of visitors visiting the downtown area were customers or employees, 83% of the respondents own a vehicle, and less than 15% used public transportation. 60% of respondents were also affiliated with UWEC with 50% of these respondents parking on‐street. Finally, 70% of the respondents were okay with walking three blocks to arrive at their destination.
The study found that parking communication and online presence is focused on enforcement and citations. While enforcement is needed for compliance, parking meters are often out of service, and parking policies do not target the specific zones where parking enforcement is desired. In addition, the current parking technology is outdated and unreliable, and necessary data is not available to aid in business decision making and planning. A parking marketing campaign should be developed to communicate the location and availability of parking. With the lack of branding, marketing, and wayfinding, drivers are unaware of available parking throughout Eau Claire. However, Third Ward on-street parking is dominated by University associated parking. As a result, parking policies and decisions should evolve to the changing demands of the three areas.
Councilman Jeremy Gragert raised a few concerns he had about the study at Tuesday’s City Council Meeting. Gragert felt that not much was learned from the study and was disappointed because additional studies would still need to be conducted. In addition, Gragert believed the parking study failed to address the primary needs of the city such as the parking ramps downtown. Leah Ness, the deputy city engineer addressed this concern saying the study provided ideas for other potential locations for parking structures Downtown. Despite these concerns, however, Gragert voted to accept the report.
Comprehensive Parking Study Update (City of Eau Claire, WGI, 34 pages)
Monday agenda packet (Dec 7, 7 p.m., Public Hearing, 93 pages)
Tuesday agenda packet (Dec 8, 4 p.m. Legislative Session, 172 pages)
Eau Claire City Council Meeting - December 7 and 8 (Video Recording: Valley Media Works)
Posted by Grace Hanson, Governmental Affairs Intern
Posted by Grace Hanson, Governmental Affairs Intern
Making a Difference: Your voice in government
The events of 2020 are a reminder of how much decisions made by all levels of government can impact your business and the economy. So how do you make sure your voice is heard when decisions are made at City Hall, the County Court House, Madison or Washington?
To help fulfill the Chamber's mission as the "Advocate of Business," your Chamber staff works to provide you with tools and opportunities to bring the voice of business to governmental policy decisions. In cooperation with Young Professionals of the Chippewa Valley, the Chamber's Advocacy Initiative recently conducted a one-hour online event that covered how government works, what decisions are made at what level, and how to make sure your point of view is part of the discussion. It was led by Scott Rogers, Governmental Affairs Director, and Grace Hanson, Governmental Affairs Intern. The program was recorded, and you can view it by clicking the link below:
Interested in running for a local city council or school board seat?
Among the topics covered in the event was the importance of having business-oriented candidates for local offices like school board, city council and county board.
Jan 5 filing deadline for the Spring election
If you or someone you know is interested in running, the filing deadline is January 5 and signatures to be placed on the ballot must be gathered between Dec 1 and Jan 5. Seats on the ballot for the April 6 nonpartisan election include one on the Altoona School Board, three district seats on the Altoona City Council, three seats on the Eau Claire School Board, and the five district seats on the Eau Claire City Council.
Click here for more information on open offices, including signature requirements and filing deadlines
Additional resources and information:
PowerPoint visuals (click to download)
Public Officials & Government Links
Eau Claire County Board interactive map
City of Eau Claire Boards & Commissions (with link to Citizen Resource Bank)
Eau Claire County Boards, Commissions, and Councils
Pew Research Political Typology Quiz
YL Political Ideology Survey
All Sides media bias chart
Adfontesmedia interactive media bias chart
Politico newsletters sign up
The Wheeler Report (Wisconsin political news releases, etc.)
The "Making a Difference" event was presented by the Chamber's Business Advocacy Initiative in partnership with Young Professionals of the Chippewa Valley. The Chamber's Advocacy sponsors include Xcel Energy (Partner Level, Miron Construction (Advocate Level), Banbury Place/Cigan Properties (Supporter Level) Eau Claire Energy Cooperative (Supporter Level) and HSHS Sacred Heart and St Joseph's Hospitals (Supporter Level).
Posted by Scott Rogers, Governmental Affairs Director
Eau Claire Chamber
The Eau Claire Chamber of Commerce has more than 1,200 members.