Ranting and Raving

your Best of the Chippewa Valley 2009 winners for local issues

V1 Staff, illustrated by Erik Christenson |

1st Place: Jail expansion
2nd Place: Budget cuts
3rd Place: Sand plant in Chippewa

Honestly, the winners of this year’s hottest local topic came as a complete surprise to us, probably because the only people we really talked to were our mothers, and we have a year’s worth of newspapers in the closet that we really meant to get to, but you know … So anyway, apparently someone wanted to build a jail on the river? What the heck? Didn’t anyone think that maybe that land could be used for more attractive construction? And, get this, everyone was slashing budgets. That totally sucks! The schools, the city, local businesses – jobs and services were lost all over the place. And you’ll never believe this – some Canadians want Chippewa Falls’ sand! For what?! Giant sandboxes? Someone should probably point out that that would bring lots of heavy truck traffic, and would probably leave a big hole when they are done. Good thing we learned about all this in time … – Eric Rasmussen

1st Place: Brett Favre
2nd Place: Jail expansion
3rd Place: Anything with Bon Iver

In case you didn’t make yourself heard last year, you wanted to reiterate that you are really, REALLY tired of anything having to do with that Favre guy or that jail thing. More people came out of the woodwork to opine about Favre playing for the Vikings than almost any other single vote in the poll. It has become like a family drama that you wish would go away, but someone always drags it back up. On the other hand, people have quieted down about the jail expansion for a while. Exercising your free speech and political power is a lot like exercising your quads and your deltoids – you need time to rest in between. The Bon Iver media blitz was right up there with the jail issue. Justin Vernon’s music is sweet, but even chocolate can make you sick if you eat too much of it. – Betty Rae Matthews

1st Place: Caryville hauntings
2nd Place: East Hill elephant
3rd Place: Uniroyal Suspension Bridge ghost

Caryville not only boasts spooks such as Mary Dean, Blackie the shadowy demon, and hellhounds that roam the cemetery and lake, but also a haunted school house and church that reside across the street from one another. Another legend dares those brave enough to peer into the river when crossing the bridge into Caryville to see it they can see headlights in its depths. Back in the day, a circus elephant was struck by lightning during a performance, and its bones were buried on the East Hill (sans feet, which were sent to New York – apparently they’re a delicacy). People have reported crossing the old Uniroyal Suspension Bridge in Boyd Park and having a sense that someone, or something, is there with them.  – Bailey Berg

1st Place: School board cuts to elementary art
2nd Place: The one none of us knows about
3rd Place: College student river drowning conspiracy
With reductions to teaching positions and increases to athletic fees, local media seemed a tad too tied up with the school board cuts in spring to mention little old elementary art, which went from 60 minutes a week down to 45 and likewise had position cuts. That’s a big deal, but I don’t have to tell you – you voted it the biggest unreported story. Of course, it’s always safe to go with the one none of us knows about. There’s bound to be one, right? The story that will be on the radars of Eau Claire and La Crosse for years to come is the college student river drowning conspiracy that some believe to be more than a series of drunken accidents and maybe, just maybe, a ridiculously clever serial killer is behind it all. I don’t think that. Just some people do. – Trevor Kupfer

1st Place: Development downtown riverfront
2nd Place: High-speed rail
3rd Place: Build a performance arts center
It’s expected, and totally alright, to procrastinate in your personal life. Get groceries tomorrow, file your taxes at the last minute, maybe never get a haircut. However, some things just shouldn’t be put off; things like the development of the downtown riverfront. The people have spoken and they want to make it happen. When geography gives you a beautiful river bisecting your town, well by George you’d best prettify it and really make your downtown shine. And then when you’re done with that, build a high-speed rail system to get you from Minneapolis to Milwaukee and everywhere in between quickly and cheaply. Yes! Then maybe, for the kicker, make people want to hop off that train in your town by building a stunning performing arts center! Let’s get to it, Chippewa Valley, I think we got ourselves a plan here. – Aryn Widule

1st Place: School board rehiring Bill Klaus
2nd Place: Stones Throw closing
3rd Place: School board cuts
Just imagine a TV movie was to be made about this year’s winner for most annoying happening. Bill Klaus, played by Jeremy Irons, craftily deals with the school board to secure his retirement stipend early. The issue comes to the public’s attention, Klaus is relegated to a middle school, then suspended. Just when you think the movie is over, KA-POW! Klaus is rehired. The film wraps up with a mob replete with pitchforks and torches marching on the school board building. Of course, the ending is hyperbolic, but the collective disgust of many in the community certainly warrants a melodramatic Lifetime movie. The Stones Throw movie would be a little shorter, but no less annoying – after several owners, one of Eau Claire’s landmark bars and music venues shuts its doors. The third place winner is a film playing out all over the state – the school board keeps gutting the schools to deal with constricting budgets, this time lopping off teachers, support staff, and school aides. – Eric Rasmussen

Chippewa Choice: The city’s failure to close down the street for a farmers market pedestrian mall.

1st Place: Public schools
2nd Place: Bike paths
3rd Place: Teacher salaries

If there’s one thing that is clear in the Chippewa Valley, it’s that we take pride in breeding talented individuals. As such, most people recognize that our public schools are to credit. For the third year in a row, locals were glad to fork over their tax dollars to the deserving schools. And for the third year in a row, the school boards had to make vital cuts because they don’t have enough funding. And those teacher salaries that are good enough for third best continue to dwindle. Remember the result of this category when you are called to vote on a school referendum in the next few years. We also love our natural beauty around these parts, proven by the high use of local bike paths and our willingness to continue extending them. Though even that may be a problem, given the city’s continued budget crisis. Sorry for getting all political, but this is the ranting and raving category, after all. – Trevor Kupfer

1st Place: Superintendent’s salary
2nd Place: County jail expansion
3rd Place: Roundabouts

Everyone deserves a second chance. However, when the person looking for the second chance is in charge of your child’s education, it’s not quite so obvious. When superintendent Bill Klaus attempted to get his retirement stipend early, the resulting controversy sucked money out the public pocketbook and into court costs. Needless to say when he was rehired for nearly the same salary, people had a few questions as to the sagacity of the council’s decision and subsequent use of public funds to pay him. Already making the rounds in conversations about stuff we don’t need to do, the county jail expansion became a hot issue that residents felt just didn’t need to be an added drain on already slim public funding. Seemingly out of the spotlight but apparently just as irksome, was the construction of roundabouts around town. – Aryn Widule

1st Place: Ha!
2nd Place: Brandon Buchanan
3rd Place: Kerry Kincaid

It’s hard to say whether voters don’t know enough about the members of city council or they thought it would be funny to stick it to “the man,” but the overwhelming majority picked Ha! as their favorite council member. Either way it’s just sad. Compounding the sadness is the fact that second place went to the recently resigned Brandon Buchanan, a youthful councilman popular for his willingness to shake things up. Not surprisingly, council president Kerry Kincaid placed in the top three. Her progressive views on cultural development give us hope for Eau Claire’s future, no matter what the budget looks like. – Trevor Kupfer

Up-and-Comer: First-year council member Andrew Werthmann placed fourth.

1st Place: Jail proposal defeated
2nd Place: Bon Iver on Letterman
3rd Place: Memorial Jazz wins Essentially Ellington

How badly did Eau Claire want a new jail expansion in 2009? The answer, in fact, is that they didn’t really want it at all. Through grassroots organization, strong public outcry, and heated council meetings, the folks of Eau Claire shot down a multi-million dollar expansion of the county jail deeper into the West Grand neighborhood and along the adjoining riverbank. Over the winter locally grown bearded celebrity Justin Vernon appeared on Late Night with David Letterman. You may recall feeling a sense of pride watching a man you’ve probably seen at the bar knocking the ear-pants off of New York while wearing a Badger t-shirt and a flannel. Our memorable happenings were filled out with the Memorial Jazz Program winning the Essentially Ellington contest, proving once again that the Chippewa Valley is a force to be reckoned with in the high school jazz arena. – Aryn Widule

Chippewa Choice: The Chippewa Sand Mine controversy

1st Place: Stymie the jail expansion
2nd Place: Blues series in Owen Park
3rd Place: The Livery

There are a ridiculous number of good ideas shooting around these parts, so inevitably some of them make the jump from idea to awesome happening in just a year. In a tremendous community effort, a proposal to expand the current jail was stymied in a way that reminded everyone that if enough people speak their mind they can protect large tracts of beautiful river banks and cool old neighborhoods. Speaking of rivers, Owen Park’s bandshell has been graced each Tuesday night by the soulful sounds of some of the Valley’s best blues musicians. Breaking the river-related trend was the opening of The Livery in one of downtown Eau Claire’s lovely historic buildings. If a town can turn a former horse rentery into a successful restaurant, I’m pretty sure it can do anything. – Aryn Widule

1st Place: Stones Throw
2nd Place: School board cuts
3rd Place: The economy

Nobody likes to be disappointed, but every once in a while it happens to all of us. The Stones Throw is one of the most popular and iconic music venues Eau Claire has ever had. Big acts broke there, returned there, and played alongside local groups for years. Despite some great moments of success, the venue’s most recent owners ducked out in summer, leaving it vacant yet again. Facing a huge deficit the Eau Claire School Board was forced to make a number of large cuts this year, and any time you take positions away from education, or tell it that you don’t have enough money for it, the community suffers. As a follow-up, I think we can all agree that the economy has been about as much of a disappointment as finding out your 13 year-old has picked up smoking. The only difference is your child picking up a bad habit won’t make you lose your job and get kicked out of your house. – Aryn Widule

1st Place: Farmers markets
2nd Place: Natural beauty
3rd Place: Homegrown talent

For a list that is as long as the Paul Bunyan’s axe handle, it’s quite a feat that the local farmers markets gave a spanking (albeit appropriate) to the remaining Chip-Valley-is-good-at listers this year. It’s hard to disagree about these results, especially when the sun is shining as you hit the markets in your shades and sandals to peruse the fruits of local labor. Natural beauty came in second place. Please focus your applause toward the feng shui of the Chippewa River and the ancient rock carving glaciers for shaping this corner of the north woods into the lake, river, and bluff assemblage that we put to use under skis, boats, bikes, and boots. And in third place is homegrown talent. No one person deserves top billing here as all Valley residents are crowding the top of the list. Thanks for being you. – Mark Koenig