MEET THE CANDIDATES

A slew of candidates are competing for seats on the Eau Claire City Council. Here’s who they are and what they think.

Tom Giffey

Autumn elections – the ones we use to pick presidents and governors – tend to get a ton of attention, sometimes at the expense of lower-profile spring elections. But these races are critical, too, and on Tuesday, April 3, Eau Claire voters will elect City Council members in five districts and for one at-large seat. In the district races, four of five incumbent councilmembers face challengers. (The fifth incumbent, Andrew Werthmann in District 5, is running unopposed.) At-large seats aren’t usually on the ballot in the same year as district-level seats, but this year is different in one case: At-large Councilman Terry Weld, who was appointed last year to fill a vacancy, is running against challenger Zachary Meives for a full term. The biographies and responses below will help you get to know the candidates both as people and as politicians. So get educated, then get to the polls!

DISTRICT 1

TIM TEWALT (incumbent)

Age: 59
Years in Eau Claire: 27
Neighborhood: Northside
Family: Wife, Cindy; two adult children, Peter and Elizabeth.
Occupation: Program Director-Industrial Mechanics, Chippewa Valley Technical College
Education: Masters in career and technical education/operations management from UW-Stout, bachelors in vocational technical education from UW-Stout, technical degree in electronics.
Political experience: Three years in City Council (appointed to vacant  seat in 2015; elected to two-year term 2016).

What is your favorite thing about Eau Claire? The opportunities for graduates to start careers, raising families, things to do, and proximity to all Wisconsin has to offer.

Your least favorite thing? Temps below -20 degrees.

What unique qualities or skills do you possess that set you apart from your opponent as well as other council members? My vocation is teaching, my avocation is troubleshooting problems. I respect others, and this shows in listening, kindness, and fully understanding the decisions I and the council make will affect not only today, but future generations. These decisions demand balance between needs, impact on current operations, and the future livelihood of Eau Claire and each of its residents. As to setting myself apart from other council members or others running for office, I leave that for each person to draw their own conclusions.

What role should the city play in creating job opportunities and retaining young talent? Continuing to enhance recreation, mobility, and an environment that encourages businesses to invest from conception to sustained growth.

What can (or should) the city do to make sure the continued redevelopment of downtown is a success? Continue to be growth friendly. We have developed multiple districts (TIFs) which have been successful for redevelopment and our recent $5 million TIGER grant that addresses transit and development.

If you received a $1 million grant to use for the city any way you wanted, what would you do with it and why? One of the great things I’ve learned on City Council is we have an incredible city government. Departments are focused on clean water, parks, safe streets, recreation, police, housing, fire, learning at the library, ice hockey, sports, and the list goes on and on. I would divide the million dollars among the departments to use as they see best. Imagine, for simple illustration, 10 departments each with $100,000 to use as they see fit. Their solutions and use would be far better than this council member could ever think of.

EMILY BERGE (challenger)

Age: 38.
Years in Eau Claire: 16.
Neighborhood: Princeton Valley.
Family: Married with two children.
Occupation: Licensed Professional Counselor and small business owner.
Education: Bachelor’s Degree in Human Development and Family Studies and a Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling.
Political experience: No elective experience.

What is your favorite thing about Eau Claire?  I love the bike trails throughout the city, the single track and ski trails of the parks, the rivers, and the neighborhood parks.

Your least favorite thing? Sometimes I feel disconnected to the downtown area from our North Side location. I would love it if there was a convenient and safe way to bike from my North Side neighborhood to downtown.

What unique qualities or skills do you possess that set you apart from your opponent as well as other council members? With my counseling background, I know how to actively listen and seek understanding. As I have been out talking with people, I am hearing that people are not feeling listened to by our elected officials, and I have the skills to be that change. As a counselor, I also have the skillset to build relationships especially when people don’t always see eye-to-eye.

What role should the city play in creating job opportunities and retaining young talent? The city can create a city where people want to live. Potential workers will ask about the schools, crime rates, public transportation, things to do, and family-friendly amenities. The city can decide if they want to invest resources in these areas.

What can (or should) the city do to make sure the continued redevelopment of downtown is a success? The city can make sure the public concerns are thought out: public safety needs be met with the increased traffic and people, adequate public restrooms, accessible transit, and affordable housing.

If you received a $1 million grant to use for the city any way you wanted, what would you do with it and why? Create a resiliency program for our youth: mentoring, healthy peer relationships, teaching coping skills, and parental support. I love what I do as a counselor; I love working with people and hearing how they have or are overcoming life obstacles. However, I hear a lot of sad and scary things that happen to kids. Even though I sincerely believe I can help people through my individual work with them, having $1 million to help kids would have a ripple effect in our community. The practical part of me would also use part of that $1 million to fund a grant writer who would secure continual funds for this program.

DISTRICT 2

DAVID KLINKHAMMER (incumbent)

Age: 74.
Years in Eau Claire: 55.
Neighborhood: Southeast side.
Family: Married; three adult children and four grandchildren.
Occupation: Retired.
Education: Bachelor’s degree from UW-Eau Claire.
Political experience: 11 years on City Council.

What is your favorite thing about Eau Claire? My favorite thing about Eau Claire is our positive energy and the friendly, welcoming attitude of our residents.

Your least favorite thing? My least favorite thing are the many activities I can’t participate in to do the things I want to do.

What unique qualities or skills do you possess that set you apart from your opponent as well as other council members?
In addition to my 11 years of experience serving on the City Council along with my service on many boards and committees such as Plan Commission, Redevelopment Authority, Library Board, etc., I feel my ability to “think outside the box” to see alternative solutions is somewhat unique. In my council career and 25 years of management experience, I’ve learned to listen well and ask penetrating questions which help others have a deeper understanding of the issue being discussed.

What role should the city play in creating job opportunities and retaining young talent?
The role of the city in creating job opportunities and retaining young talent is to adequately fund and effectively assist in coordinating sound economic development and redevelopment as well as continue to shape Eau Claire into a great community which is attractive as a place to live, work, and play.

What can (or should) the city do to make sure the continued redevelopment of downtown is a success? To continue the revitalization of downtown, the city needs to be open to all opportunities. To find ways to help make the desirable proposals come to fruition. We continue to earn a reputation as “a city that works” with our willingness to look for opportunities help collaborative projects go forward. We must  continue to build on that track record.

If you received a $1 million grant to use for the city any way you wanted, what would you do with it and why? I would use a $1 million grant to fund scholarships to qualified students willing to enroll at CVTC or UWEC. These scholarships would be forgivable, in part or in full over time, with employment and residence in Eau Claire.

EMILY ANDERSON (challenger)

Age: 38.
Years in Eau Claire: 14 (1986-97 and 2015-present).
Neighborhood: South Side.
Family: Single, no children.
Occupation: Professional writer/editor.
Education: Recently completed Ph.D. in English at SUNY-Buffalo. I also have a master of fine arts degree (MFA) from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Political experience: First-time candidate.

What is your favorite thing about Eau Claire? Living in a town where people share a vision and can pull together to make it a reality. Every time I go downtown, I’m reminded of the power of our collective imagination.

Your least favorite thing? I’m very concerned about increasing poverty, especially childhood poverty. We need to invest in our future by supporting workers and families. I would like to see us expand our vision to empower all people and get at the root causes of poverty. 

What unique qualities or skills do you possess that set you apart from your opponent as well as other council members? I’ll be the only arts professional on the council. I have extensive experience collaborating with artists and arts organizations. I will use that experience to maximize our city’s investment in the Confluence Project. ... The arts don’t just boost our economy. They show us how to build a more just world – an Eau Claire where everyone has a voice.

What role should the city play in creating job opportunities and retaining young talent? Job opportunities and attracting young workers are key to the city’s future. But I hear my constituents say jobs here pay low wages – meanwhile, housing costs are high. We need public-private partnerships to support workers with affordable housing and childcare, if we’re going to attract and retain young families. 

What can (or should) the city do to make sure the continued redevelopment of downtowns a success? We need to support investments in buildings and infrastructure with investments in people. We should strengthen our support for small local businesses for a unique retail environment – and so more people can benefit from the Confluence Project and downtown redevelopment. ... We should also strengthen support for, and seek input from, homeless and low-income residents, who may be negatively impacted by downtown redevelopment and rising rents.

If you received a $1 million grant to use for the city any way you wanted, what would you do with it and why? I would use it to cultivate civic engagement at the neighborhood level. I would fund trainings and paid internships to teach ordinary citizens how to become successful neighborhood organizers to build connected neighborhoods that work together to advocate for their needs and identify and solve problems on a hyper-local level. 

DISTRICT 3

KATHY MITCHELL (incumbent)

Age: 71.
Years in Eau Claire: Almost 40.
Neighborhood: Third Ward.
Family: Husband, John; two children; two grandchildren.
Occupation: Retired university administrator.
Education: Ph.D. in anthropology.
Political experience: Seven years on the City Council.

What is your favorite thing about Eau Claire? My favorite thing about Eau Claire is the quality of life. Our city is safe and healthy with natural beauty. Cultural opportunities abound in a family-friendly environment.

Your least favorite thing? My least favorite thing is the weather. As an avid gardener, I want a longer growing season. If I can have a second least favorite thing, it would be the large size of the local deer herd.

What unique qualities or skills do you possess that set you apart from your opponent as well as other council members? Governing takes finesse. It takes working with constituents, city staff, and fellow council members. Governing is hard work. If done well, it involves research, communication, and taking time to pay attention to details and the consequences of decisions. Governing takes patience, a lot of listening, considering all sides, and then doing what is best for the city. I am good at governing. 

What role should the city play in creating job opportunities and retaining young talent? We know that many people first choose where they want to live and then look for a job. Eau Claire must offer the best opportunities possible for education, health care, recreation, arts, and entertainment. The city provides the infrastructure. The city’s major contribution to the Confluence Project is an excellent example of providing the basis for an explosion of development that has, and will, appeal to young talent.

What can (or should) the city do to make sure the continued redevelopment of downtown is a success? The city should expand redevelopment out from Barstow Street. For example, the $5 million TIGER grant for a new bus transfer center and workforce housing will spur redevelopment along Farwell Street. The council approved extra funding for the Redevelopment Authority to accelerate the purchase of properties in the Cannery District. TID No. 12 will provide infrastructure along the river near Water Street and fund neighborhood redevelopment. 

If you received a $1 million grant to use for the city any way you wanted, what would you do with it and why? Protecting the city’s older neighborhoods has been one of my top priorities. I would use $1 million to rehabilitate rental properties or houses in danger of becoming rentals to then be sold as owner-occupied homes.

JEREMY GRAGERT (challenger)

Age: 36.
Years in Eau Claire: 16.
Neighborhood: Third Ward.
Family: Single, no children.
Occupation: Coordinator of statewide non-profit network.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in history (UW-Eau Claire), Master’s degree in education (UW-La Crosse).
Political experience: First-time candidate.

What is your favorite thing about Eau Claire? Your least favorite thing? My favorite thing is that we decided to make Eau Claire cool, and we discovered that it is within our collective power as a community. My least favorite thing is that sometimes we can delay tackling major challenges such as economic inequality, affordable housing, climate change, and lack of transportation options.

What unique qualities or skills do you possess that set you apart from your opponent as well as other council members?
I work hard to involve people in community decisions, whether big or small. I show up at even the most obscure public meetings, and bring people with me, to make sure that new ideas and perspectives are included. As a citizen I have even helped create new city committees, such as the Sustainability Advisory Committee, to tackle environmental issues and move us toward 100 percent renewable energy. I have also created new resources, like the Chippewa Valley Bike Map.

What role should the city play in creating job opportunities and retaining young talent?
Our city is creating jobs, but they are not necessarily paying wages and benefits that attract and retain talent. The city should lead by example and pay city employees a living wage. Much of what attracts people and businesses to Eau Claire is a high quality of life and a low cost of living, but the city needs to work harder to maintain both.

What can (or should) the city do to make sure the continued redevelopment of downtown is a success? I served on the board of directors of Downtown Eau Claire Inc. more than 10 years ago, back when it was still a question whether downtown would rise again. While I have worked hard to bring trails to downtown, we still need to improve on-street bike routes, pedestrian connections, and mass transit leading to the downtown so that more people can enjoy it without increasing traffic and parking congestion.

If you received a $1 million grant to use for the city any way you wanted, what would you do with it and why? I would invest in renewable solar energy for the rooftops of city buildings. We need to stop wasting money on dirty energy, and solar would both reduce our city operating budget and improve our environment.

DISTRICT 4

BOB VON HADEN (incumbent)

Age: 78.
Years in Eau Claire: 52 years in same house, same district.
Neighborhood: Buffington. (My wife, Penny, and I organized the Buffington Neighborhood Association and led the saving of 305 trees, cemetery Sexton Office and entrance gate, plus restoration of Rod and Gun Park.)
Family: Wife, Penny; three adult children; four teenage grandchildren.
Occupation: Alderperson since retirement; retired partner of 33 years with Wipfli Ullrich Bertelson.
Education: B.A. in Business Administration; Certified Public Accountant.
Political experience: Served as District 4 Representative for 15 years (elected six times).

What is your favorite thing about Eau Claire? Your least favorite thing? Since moving here in 1966 I’ve loved Eau Claire for its small-town friendliness, its bigger-town amenities and, recently, for the long over-due proposal for the Veterans Tribute Trail with statues, historical stations, and interactive displays. Least favorite = Potholes!

What unique qualities or skills do you possess that set you apart from your opponent as well as other council members? I’m a Certified Public Accountant with strong financial management skills, experience in municipal budgeting and business negotiations. I helped write the original City Comprehensive Plan; served on the majority of city commissions/committees; was involved in, over a 40+ year history, the promotion and building of our community schools, museums, Eau Claire Regional Arts Center, swimming pool, etc.

What role should the city play in creating job opportunities and retaining young talent? Maintain excellent city services, great parks, interesting pedestrian/bicycle trails, varied recreational facilities so young people will desire to live, work, and play here. Promote cultural events such as music and the Pablo Center. Coordinate with Visit Eau Claire to bring sporting events, marathons, Dragon Races, etc. Work with UWEC, CVTC, and local schools to make quality education available. Provide loan pools and industrial parks to entice vibrant businesses. Encourage neighborhood beautification.

What can (or should) the city do to make sure the continued redevelopment of downtown is a success? Brainstorm policy decisions regarding good urban design and preserving scenic vistas; advertise community successes, recreational water quality, local landmarks; promote beautification and community pride; create memorable gateways and good roads; plant free trees on vacant land; continue to rehab housing; encourage building owners to rent empty first floors to businesses, entrepreneurs, college students; initiate competitions in multi-purpose sports venues; tend to tourism needs; advocate festivals, fishing contests, “Photography Alive!” – amateur contests with different themes; theatre extravaganza – different plays at each theatre.

If you received a $1 million grant to use for the city any way you wanted, what would you do with it and why? Because our youth are the future, we must ensure that all have availability to wholesome activities and a solid education. I would invest the $1 million in an endowment fund, earmarking the earnings for funding need-based youth scholarships securing opportunities for everyone to participate in activities of their choice. 

JILL CHRISTOPHERSON (challenger)

Age: 66. 
Years in Eau Claire: 36 (since 2001 in District 4)
Neighborhood: Seventh Street (West Side).
Family: Single, one adult daughter.
Occupation: Retired. Former counselor for Private Industry Council, Educational Opportunity Center, and Family Support Center, and director of education at First Congregational UCC.
Education: Graduate degree in guidance and counseling from UW-Stout.
Political experience: No elected experience.

What is your favorite thing about Eau Claire? Eau Claire is a beautiful, tree-filled city that is not too big and not too small; it’s just right.

Your least favorite thing? What I found least attractive about Eau Claire when I first arrived has been remedied by the energy and optimism created by new development in the heart of this city. 

What unique qualities or skills do you possess that set you apart from your opponent as well as other council members? We have outstanding leadership in our city. The tension that arises from change and from diverse possibilities is healthy and not something to be feared or avoided. It is our responsibility as leaders to encourage honest conversation and to manage the tension of public discourse. This is the type of relationship that I am building with the neighborhood that I would represent and would develop at the council table.

What role should the city play in creating job opportunities and retaining young talent? City government holds the vision of the successful community that we are becoming. We will support the initiatives that are part of the future, possibilities in transit and in sustainable energy. We will continue to hold the confidence of the community by being diligent in developing new financial resources and maintaining sound fiscal practices. Talented people want to be part of something that is successful, and we are writing a great success story.

What can (or should) the city do to make sure the continued redevelopment of downtown is a success? Downtown development spurs local business expansion and other development. Eau Claire room tax revenue topped $2 million for the first time. To support continued successful development, we move with confidence into the next planned stages of development. During this transition time, the public message would be transparent, confident, and informative.

If you received a $1 million grant to use for the city any way you wanted, what would you do with it and why? $1 million seems like a lot, but would disappear in a second when facing some institutional problems. Lack of mobility and access to broadband constricts individual opportunities. Creating an endowment would provide a sustainable income to either pay or support the costs of transportation and/or Internet services for persons with low income and/or differing abilities. 

AT-LARGE SEAT

TERRY WELD (incumbent)

Age: 57.
Years in Eau Claire: 45.
Neighborhood: Putnam Heights on the South Side.
Family: Married, four children, two grandchildren.
Occupation: Real estate agent.
Education: North High School graduate, Bachelor of Science Degree from UW-Stout.
Political experience: Appointed to fill vacant seat in April 2017.

What is your favorite thing about Eau Claire? I love the energy, drive, and compassion that this community has. Its forward thinking and ambition to be better in every shape and form is unique.

Your least favorite thing? The only disappointment that I can ever recall having about Eau Claire was that we built so much of this city away from the rivers. Happily, this is no longer the case, and what a wonderful difference that has made to our community.

What unique qualities or skills do you possess that set you apart from your opponent as well as other council members? Certainly, having city governing experience will set my opponent and I apart. With six years on the Plan Commission and this past year as an at-large council member, I understand the processes involved to be a productive and effective member. Regarding the other council members, they are all experienced, knowledgeable, and dedicated. Only our personalities separate us, and that diversity is what makes this council so successful.

What role should the city play in creating job opportunities and retaining young talent? In order for us to continue on this path of economic growth, the City Council needs to always be conscious of recruiting and supporting new businesses. The success of that eases the task of retaining the young talent. The city’s economic development staff has accomplished so much over recent years and continues to set lofty goals for the future. As a council, we need to make sure they have the funding and the support to accomplish those goals.

If you received a $1 million grant to use for the city any way you wanted, what would you do with it and why? If that amount was all that was needed to finalize funding for the proposed passenger rail service between here and St. Paul, I would love to see that happen. There are so many economic, social, and environmental benefits to this project, and it will be a loss to Eau Claire and western Wisconsin if we can’t make this happen sometime in the near future.

Zachary Meives (challenger)

Meives did not respond to Volume One’s candidate questionnaire. However, he does have a Facebook page: facebook.com/zmeivesalderman.

WHAT’S MY NUMBER?

For the purposes of City Council elections, the city of Eau Claire is divided into five geographic districts. If you don’t know which City Council district you live in, go to tinyurl.com/EauClaireDistricts for a handy map.

WHAT ELSE IS ON THE BALLOT?

Want to find out what else is on your ballot? Visit myvote.wi.gov and plug in your address. You’ll see all the races where you live, including county board seats, judicial contests, and statewide referendums.

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