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Posted: January 30, 2014 Confluence Project question will be placed before voters on April 1 ballot

By Andrew Dowd

Taken from the Leader-Telegram 

Eau Claire city voters will have two questions on the spring election ballot that would impact local government contributions to the Confluence Project's proposed $51.2 million community arts center.


Despite strong words against a referendum impacting how the city can help fund the construction of performing arts buildings, the Eau Claire City Council voted 9-1 Tuesday to put the issue on the April 1 ballot.


"The fact that this is going to referendum is very right and proper," said Councilman Dave Daux, one of the few council members who spoke strongly in support of the referendum.

Several other members said they begrudgingly voted to hold the April 1 referendum, but still strongly oppose it.


"I will do everything I can to fight its passage in April," said Councilman Eric Larsen, a military veteran and retired police officer. "I served to protect us from this kind of bad law."

He contended the referendum wording is confusing and sets bad policy for how the city should decide funding for projects.


Voting no


Councilman David Klinkhammer said he expects to be vilified for casting the lone vote opposing the referendum, but he also said it's poorly worded and bad policy.


"A well thought-out referendum deserves to be on the ballot. This does not," he said.

Councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle called the referendum efforts "an oppositional scheme to undo a modest pledge to the Confluence Project" that created a "manufactured appearance of a divided community." The council voted 8-3 in October to pledge $5 million toward the project planned for downtown Eau Claire.


Because it seemed like the most effective way to handle the issue, Emmanuelle ultimately agreed to approve the April 1 ballot question, but said she feels it will fail.


"This option, putting it on the ballot, pulls off the Band-Aid the quickest," she said.


Complex questions


Klinkhammer, Larsen and Emmanuelle said they believed there were residents who signed petitions that led to the referendum, but didn't know what they were agreeing to.

Councilman Bob Von Haden disagreed, noting that the group leading the petition drive called itself the Confluence Referendum Committee.


"There's no question that it's related to the Confluence Project," he said.


Drafted by a volunteer group that got 4,777 city resident signatures, the city's referendum would give voters veto power over city spending of $1 million or more on performing arts buildings.


Supporters of the referendum noted that the City Council had opportunities in October and November to write a more concise referendum on the Confluence Project, but chose not to.


"I would've rather had the simple statement the county has out there," Von Haden said.

The countywide April 1 referendum lets voters approve or deny a $3.5 million county government contribution to the project.

Potential challenge


Should voters approve the city's April 1 referendum, Councilwoman Kathleen Mitchell said the resulting law could still spur a legal battle.


"Even if it does pass, the legality of the ordinance is something for the courts to decide after that," she said.


Councilwoman Monica Lewis said it saddens her to hear that some council members already are contemplating taking the referendum to court, should it pass.


"I would think we'd like to honor any decision they come up with," Lewis said of city voters.

Before voting 9-1 to send the referendum to city voters on April 1, the council voted 6-4 against directly turning the referendum into a city charter ordinance.

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