Public Forum: Mayor or Administrator for Wausau?

Source: Wausau Daily Herald-Nora G. Hartel

Wausau voters and leaders face a crossroads. A referendum in April will ask residents if they want to bring in a hired administrator to help run City Hall or maintain the current system with a full-time mayor.

To stir up interest in that ballot question and promote his view, City Council member Keene Winters is employing campaign techniques, including yard signs that read: “Professionalism for a change. Vote for a city administrator.”

“I want the voter turnout to be more than 15 percent,” Winters said.

Before the April 7 referendum, a panel of current and former leaders will weigh in on the question in a public forum titled “Mayor vs. Administrator: Who Should Run City Hall?”

That discussion will take place next Tuesday and is co-sponsored by Daily Herald Media, the Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service, the Wausau Region Chamber of Commerce and Wisconsin Public Radio.

“It’s a big change. It has far-reaching implications. It’s something we want residents to take seriously,” said Daily Herald Engagement Editor Rob Mentzer, who will moderate the panel.

Proponents of change argue that hiring an administrator puts city operations in the hands of a more qualified leader — possibly someone who studied municipal government. But supporters of the current system say mayors are more accountable to the public, because they are elected.

The panelists at the event will include two former Wausau mayors, Linda Lawrence and John Robinson. Winters and Marathon County Board Supervisor Ken Day will participate, as will Steven Hintz, a consultant and former Oshkosh municipal leader who helped produce a report on the pros and cons of different leadership models for Wausau.

Panelists will discuss the inherent differences between the two forms of government and consider them in the context of Wausau’s history — including recent missteps by city officials such as those related to Thomas Street and the median project on Highway 52.