City leaders believe Eau Claire moved forward in 2020, not back
On Friday, February 19, the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce hosted the annual State of the City address in a virtual format. The event was streamed via Perigon at WIN Technology and presented by City Council president Terry Weld and interim City Manager Dave Solberg. The two city leaders explained the difficulties the city faced this past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and highlighted some of Eau Claire’s accomplishments despite challenges.
Difficulties the city faced
Dave Solberg began the morning presentation by introducing Lieske Giese, the City/County Health Director. Giese briefly shared the impact COVID-19 had on the city of Eau Claire saying “2020 has been enormously challenging,” but “it has also been a year with enormous gifts.” She explained the city had begun planning well before March to prepare for problems like COVID-19. Plans were in place and when needed, they were implemented.
Communication was always a top priority from the very beginning. In March, the Health Department did their first joint press conference to inform the community about the pandemic and as time went on, much of their work has been done virtually. A team of disease investigators worked diligently to do contact tracing throughout the community. The local K-12 and Higher Education institutions took the protective measures necessary to reduce COVID-19 exposure in the classroom.
While this year has been difficult for everyone, many healthcare leaders and local organizations have worked together to support and protect the community. Giese recognizes Eau Claire as a community that cares and a community that will thrive.
While Terry Weld recognized that most people would like to forget the past year, due to the challenges brought on by COVID-19, Weld looks back on the past year with pride and said, “we moved forward in 2020, not back.” These accomplishments included the completed West Grand Plaza, an approved 399 units with qualified workforce housing rates, continued planning and design of the library project, the creation of the Chippewa Valley Economic Recovery Task Force, a completed community health survey, and finishing the year under budget.
Solberg highlighted two key accomplishments for the city. The first being safe, fair, accessible, and transparent elections this fall. Solberg explained that a record number of ballots were cast by mail this year and drive-through voting was implemented for the first time. In-person voting also took place safely on election day.
The second accomplishment was the city continued to provide necessary services and facilities to the community. Eau Claire did not close a single business day in 2020. City hall, city facilities, and the transit system kept going despite the pandemic. Accommodations were made such as housing being provided for those in need and face-to-face meetings transitioning to online, but the work still continued. “2020 changed how we did business but we didn’t stop doing business,” Solberg said.
The Civic Capital of Eau Claire
Weld credited the success of Eau Claire to the city’s Civic Capital, defined as “the formal and informal relationship, networks and capacities communities use to make decisions and solve problems.” The seven components of Civic Capital are engaged residents, inclusive community leadership, collaborative institutions, the embracing of diversity and equity, authentic communication, a culture of engagement, and shared vision and values.
Through programs such as Leadership Eau Claire and the neighborhood associations, Eau Claire residents have helped shape decisions and civic affairs. Residents have also continued to remain engaged with the community in every aspect of civic affairs through events such as the peaceful demonstration and virtual Town Hall meetings this past summer. Participatory budgeting and the Comprehensive Plan Review have allowed the community to share their vision and values creating a common foundation for addressing public matters. The success of the Confluence project, a partnership with Visit Eau Claire, UW-Eau Claire, and the City of Eau Claire exemplifies the collaboration of institutions across multiple sectors.
The City also continues to support leaders from diverse backgrounds by cultivating inclusive community leadership as well as continuing to embrace diversity and further equity in services, support, and engagement. To do so, the city aims to foster change across multiple sectors through launching projects such as the Transformation Project, a project created to address institutional racism in the community.
As city leaders look to the future, the city plans to reengage with its strategic plan. The plan aims to improve and continue to provide exceptional quality of life and services for everyone. While COVID-19 protocols limited Eau Claire’s ability to move forward with the plan’s goals and objectives, Solberg explained that the city will begin to resume these plans once the pandemic slows.
There are many plans and initiatives organized to take place in 2021 throughout the city. These plans include groundbreaking on the library expansion and transit transfer center projects as well as making meaningful, measurable progress with affordable housing, increasing organizational equity, diversity, and inclusion, and advancing participatory budgeting.
City Council also plans to resume its search for a new city manager sometime this fall. The Council began accepting applications this past summer to replace Dale Peters, who retired last year in October. However, after their preferred candidate declined the position for another job offer, the Council decided to pause the search for the time being. Weld explained that the Council would re-start the search process when the time is right and the pandemic has subsided.
City of Eau Claire website
Eau Claire leaders take pride in a year most want to forget (Leader-Telegram $)
Eggs and Issues discusses state of the city (WEAU 13 News)
Eggs & Issues PowerPoint Visuals (City of Eau Claire; click to download pdf)
Posted by Grace Hanson, Governmental Affairs Intern
Eau Claire Chamber
The Eau Claire Chamber of Commerce has more than 1,200 members.