Weld at the Helm

councilman pledges middle course as he takes over presidency

Tom Giffey, photos by Andrea Paulseth

As the newly elected president of the Eau Claire City Council, Terry Weld says he will plot a centrist course in the coming year and work to bring balance back to the body.

“It’s not about my personal initiatives or my agenda,” Weld said in a post-election interview. “It really is about what the community needs and wants and servicing that first.”

“My role will be to try and make sure that we are at least taking a step back to be mindful of all 70,000 people (in the city).” – Terry Weld, newly elected Eau Claire City Council president

Weld, a two-year veteran of the City Council, defeated Acting President Andrew Werthmann on April 2 election by a 53% to 47% margin. Weld was to be sworn in to a one-year term as council president on April 16. Werthmann, who has served on the council for 10 years, will retain his at-large seat.

Weld, a real estate agent, made nonpartisanship a touchstone of his candidacy. “I really wanted to try and bring back what I felt the original role of our council president was, which was to be nonpartisan,” he said. “I really felt strongly about that, and I felt that we had strayed away from that direction. And I felt that it was important that the community had another option when it came to the election.”

Weld declined to point to specific decisions that he believed had pulled the council too far in a partisan direction. However, over the past year, under Werthmann’s leadership, the council passed a number of progressive initiatives, including dropping the city fine for marijuana possession to $1 and legalizing backyard chickens.

In December, Weld decided not to seek re-election to his at-large council seat but to instead pursue the presidency, challenging Werthmann, who had filled the role on an interim basis since the abrupt resignation of then-Council President Kerry Kincaid last summer. While Kincaid never offered specific reasons for her resignation, it was clear she was unhappy with the more activist direction the City Council was poised to take after the April 2018 election, during which several incumbents were replaced by more progressive challengers. While an incumbent himself, Werthmann – a longtime political activist and a member of the Democratic National Committee – fit ideologically with this progressive slate.

Whatever the nature of recent conflicts, Weld is eager to forge ahead collaboratively with fellow council members and city residents as a whole. “My role will be to try and make sure that we are at least taking a step back to be mindful of all 70,000 people (in the city),” he said. “Is there something that we can do that brings us back to the middle, or maybe reaches a broader segment of our population?”

As president, Weld hopes to support and nurture the city’s neighborhood associations and to continue working on initiatives such as increasing the availability of affordable housing. On the latter topic, he points to a report issued in February by a regional housing affordability task force. The City Council has already agreed to adopt guidelines set forth by the task force, and Weld expects the council will reach a point where it will have to rewrite some of the city’s zoning codes – such as rules pertaining to setbacks, parking, and minimum lot sizes – as a way of encouraging the construction of less-costly housing.

Weld says he hopes to prove himself as an effective leader over the coming year, and he intends to seek a full three-year term as council president in April 2020. “It is a goal of mine to do a great job, and really, I’ve set the bar high,” Weld said. “I’m going to do everything I can do to reach that bar and exceed it.”