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Council opts for 3 months without Committee of the Whole

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City Hall
La Crosse's City Hall (Tribune file photo)

The La Crosse Common Council will go without its Committee of the Whole for the first three months of 2013.

The council, which earlier this week seemed inclined to reverse its September decision and restore Committee of the Whole, instead voted 12-5 Thursday to give the change a test run.

It will do the same with Highways, Properties and Utilities Committee, dividing its members into the other two standing committees, Judiciary and Administration and Finance and Personnel.

Those two “supercommittees” will have the public hearings, with all council members encouraged to attend both, said council member Jai Johnson, who pushed for the trial period Thursday.

Mayor Matt Harter would not say whether he will veto the measure. He has until Tuesday to decide.

A vocal group of opponents had called Monday for keeping Committee of the Whole, saying it provided the only opportunity to address the entire council.

But Johnson argued having that and the other committees was redundant, either forcing people to repeat themselves at multiple city meetings or letting them bypass the standing committees for Committee of the Whole.

“We’re reducing the number of hoops to jump through,” council member Katherine Svitavsky added. Both she and Johnson said they’ve had no calls from constituents asking to retain Committee of the Whole.

The full council also can allow public hearings with a two-thirds vote if the issue merits further discussion and comment.

“It’s time to do a little  streamlining” of the process, council member Bob Seaquist said.

But the late switch in direction didn’t sit well with several council members.

“Here we go again,” said John Satory of District 6, noting similar last-minute maneuvering in September led to the measure coming back for reconsideration.    

They also didn’t like a move to eliminate opening council meetings with a public comment period if needed, warning that the two-thirds threshold could be difficult to achieve.

“It’s getting worse,” council member Andrea Richmond said. “It’s absolutely getting worse.”

She joined Satory, Al Wagner, Chris Olson and Paul Medinger in voting against even three months without Committee of the Whole.   

The council will re-evaluate after the March council cycle, so both Committee of the Whole and Highways, Properties and Utilities could be restored if needed before the spring elections.

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