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When a resolution recognizing climate change came before the La Crosse Common Council, no one argued against the mounting scientific evidence.

Instead, the council spent Nov. 9 debating policy, questioning whether it was wise to take a stand on what some of them saw as a federal issue, before ultimately deciding 7-6 to vote on whether to recognize climate change and endorse a carbon tax. The resolution passed 7-5, with one abstention.

The question of what the council should and should not weigh in on came back in December with a resolution to endorse the creation of a nonpartisan procedure to create legislative and congressional redistricting plans. La Crosse United to Amend asked the council to send a question of whether to amend the U.S. constitution to overturn the Supreme Court Citizen’s United decision to referendum.

Ultimately, the council voted in favor of recognizing climate change, endorsed the creation of nonpartisan legislative districts and agreed to send La Crosse United to Amend’s question to referendum. However, the decisions proved contentious with council members, including Jessica Olson and council president Martin Gaul, who said they will continue to abstain from votes they don't believe belong in La Crosse City Hall. A number of council members were more comfortable giving voters a direct voice through the referendum, rather than speaking for the people.

Council member Patrick Brever, who represents the city on the Sustainable La Crosse Commission, brought the question of recognizing climate change and supporting a carbon tax after the commission unanimously supported the idea brought to them by the Citizens Climate Lobby.

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Patrick Brever mug

Brever

People want a voice, he said, and if they come to a city and county joint group like the commission to tell them what they’re passionate about, he’s going to share their concerns with the rest of the city council.

“I think we at the city can do more than we think, and I hope the people of La Crosse appreciate that,” Brever said.

The question marked the first resolution of this type to go before the current La Crosse Common Council, which saw a significant shake-up last April with eight political newcomers joining the 13-person body; however, it’s not unusual for Mayor Tim Kabat, the La Crosse County Board or other city councils to put in their two cents' worth about issues some might consider state or federal.

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Mayor Tim Kabat

Kabat

“It gets back to there are some of those state, federal and global issues that do have impact here at the local level,” Kabat said.

Climate change in particular has financial repercussions on the city, with storm events that could be tied to climate change such as the one in July that caused $100,000 of damage in the city.

“As mayor, I have taken positions on a number of these issues, and that’s part of the role in trying to bring attention to them,” Kabat said.

As the city’s chief elected official, the mayor speaks on behalf of his constituents, he said, and he personally feels it’s important for him to do that on issues that affect them, even indirectly.

“I do think the local folks look to us, especially at this time. At the state level it seems more and more every day there are efforts to preempt local control on a whole host of issues. And at the federal level there’s just a whole lot of dysfunction,” Kabat said.

La Crosse County Board member Maureen Freedland argued that local government officials should take advantage of the direct contact they have with their constituents, contact that officials in Washington and even Madison don’t necessarily get.

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Iverson Maureen Freedland

Freedland

“We are the common level of government, so to speak. We’re expected to convey the local voices around us,” Freedland said.

Freedland joined the rest of the La Crosse County Board and voted in favor of the climate change resolution when the same question that went before the La Crosse Common Council went to the county government in December.

“What happens with climate changes affects us so much in the local government,” Freedland said. “We spent a lot of money this past year doing repairs for roads. It also leads into the county parks which had to do with very intense rain during the summertime which may be part of the shifting weather conditions.”

When Appleton council member Bob Baker’s measure to get the city of 70,000 to step up its efforts to take climate change seriously was controversial, there wasn’t much of a debate about whether the council had a right to weigh in on climate change, he said.

“It’s a problem that everybody’s facing … A lot of the things we work on impact everyone differently, whereas the weather changing impacts us all the same,” Baker said.

The response from the Appleton community was huge, with people filling up the council chambers to talk about climate change and 30 members of the public coming forward to speak, nearly all in favor of the resolution.

“I can’t say the response from the rest of the council was as positive,” he said.

More than one of his fellow council members didn’t believe the scientific consensus on climate change, leading to the legislation dying after being referred to Appleton’s mayor’s office.

However, there is another school of thought when it comes to these types of issues.

Olson, who joined the La Crosse Common Council in April, believes taking positions on issues such as climate change and fair mapping efforts oversteps the bounds of a nonpartisan city council position.

“We are speaking on behalf of people who live within a certain boundary. I really feel we should not exceed the authority that they have given us,” Olson said.

That authority ends with the limits to what they can direct city staff to do, she said.

“My constituents, they elected Jennifer Shilling and Jill Billings to be their voice on state matters,” Olson said. “Just as I wouldn’t necessary feel Ron Kind should send me a letter telling me how to vote on a rezoning application, I also feel I’m exceeding the authority that my constituents give me on these votes.”

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Jessica Olson mug

Olson

Olson abstained from the climate change vote, then again when the question of fair mapping came before the council. Gaul joined her in abstaining on the gerrymandering issue, sharing similar concerns.

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La Crosse Common Council member Martin Gaul

Gaul

“We were elected to do the business of the city, nothing more or less,” Gaul said.

He makes an exception for issues like the state transportation budget, which the council called upon Madison to resolve earlier this year. Gaul said the lack of a permanent solution to funding infrastructure falls back on the city for direct action when it's forced to pick up the slack.

“The problem for me is when the council determines it proper for us to deal with issues more esoteric in nature where the effect is indirect or only marginally having to do with the day to day business of the city,” he said.

While he acknowledged that the politicized disagreements include important discussions that society as a whole should be having, he said they weren’t constructive discussions to have at the city-government level.

“As I have stated, we have enough points of contention between us having to do with that which falls within our scope. Inviting additional friction by engaging on subjects that are overtly political and outside of local control is ill-advised, at least to my way of thinking,” Gaul said. “It wasn't all that many years ago when our council struggled with maintaining decorum and mutual respect within the membership; I would like to avoid (a return to disorder) if at all possible.”

Olson agreed, adding that avoiding conflict was especially important since she sees the votes as largely symbolic.

“It doesn’t change the fact of what we’re voting on. It’s a signal or a message,” Olson said. “The net effect is just that you make some people who might not agree with the vote uncomfortable.”

Brever respected her position, adding that he can “absolutely see where they are coming from,” but he disagrees that the vote has no net effect, saying letters sent to government officials on the state and federal can be meaningful.

“We don’t battle special interests, so I think we can have the political capital to stand up to these kind of pressures. If they hear from us and they hear from enough of us on this issue, they’ll take it up themselves,” Brever said.

Council member Jacqueline Marcou, who is also a council newcomer, went so far as to say the council has a responsibility to take a stand.

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Jacqueline Marcou

Marcou

“A lot of people feel they don’t have a voice right now because of what’s happening,” Marcou said.

Taking those kinds of votes can help persuade state and federal legislators to take action, she said, as well as make local constituents feel like their voices are heard and their local representatives will do what they can.

“I think it makes people get more involved … It makes people have conversations about what’s happening,” she said. “If we don’t talk about it, there’s no level of government talking about it.”

When it comes to climate change in particular, the vote prompts community conversations about what they can do at a local level.

While Marcou understood Gaul’s concerns, she was confident the council would continue to get along well. She said she’d follow advice Gaul gave when she first joined the council, which is to take a vote and then move on and support the will of the body as a whole.

“We take up so many other contentious issues … That’s what we’re there to do,” Marcou said.

She said the council’s votes are setting the tone for both the council and the city as a whole.

Despite their differences, the La Crosse Common Council members stressed that the discussion on what direction the council should take hasn’t created hard feelings.

“I understand there are many on the council that disagree with my position, and I respect that,” Gaul said.

Brever agreed, saying, “It’s a disagreement, but not one that’s going to hamper our ability to pass legislation.”

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City government reporter

Jourdan Vian is a reporter and columnist covering local government and city issues for the La Crosse Tribune. You can contact her at 608-791-8218.

(28) comments

random annoying bozo

so the city of lacrosse is looking at a carbon tax huh? that should be music to the ears of leaders in onalaska, the town of onalaska, holmen, the town of holland, la crescent, west salem and all the other outlying areas...it appears the populations of those areas will be rising, and lacrosses will be stagnant or falling....just like the last 4 decades or so.

Redwall

Perchance, could you inform us of the exact verbiage of the referendum? And how about telling us who exactly brought it before the Council? And how much of a carbon tax is required? And what scientific evidence exists that a carbon tax would be meaningfully effective?

Of course, they dont want to or simply cannot answer these questions. I hope the janitor turns on the lights in the Council chambers before they meet because none of them has the awareness to figure out they are sitting in the dark.

Maybe they should be reminded their constituents have been paying utility rate increases at three times the rate of inflation for many years to fund all these feel-good green projects. And that is in addition to the taxpayers funded subsidies for solar and wind projects to pay for equipment imported from China and costing American jobs. Some might consider these to be taxes.

This entire episode is nothing more than the Democratic party trying to keep their base fired up. Apparently its too cold to rally in Cameron Park and the last time they held a rally at UWL no-one showed up (and that was before the temps dropped).

I dont recall any of these Councilmen campaigning on these national issues, so their votes are only self serving, a waste of time as the City's housing stock rots, drug use is rampant, and roads go unrepaired. They've proven they cannot manage parking ramps, and have now moved on to vacuous opinons on complex and divisive national matters.

Maybe we need some recalled councilmen.

capedcrusader

Council member Patrick Brever, who represents the city on the Sustainable La Crosse Commission, brought the question of recognizing climate change and supporting a carbon tax after the commission unanimously supported the idea brought to them by the Citizens Climate Lobby.

Dave from Wisc

Good point. So now voters in La Crosse can't really just vote for who will do the best job of running the city, but they have to consider the partisan political views of the candidates. Maybe vote for a lessor qualified person but someone who is a Republican or Democrat when it comes to state and national politics.

Rick Czeczok

Worry about the city problems that they have trouble solving, and leave the state and fed problems to the big boys. Stop wasting or money, it's not yours to waste.

Dave from Wisc

In 2011 the City of River Falls Wisc city council passed a resolution condemning Governor Walker. I used to drive through there 4 or 5 times a year and would always stop and spend some money (Shopko, downtown sporting goods store, other downtown places). Haven't stopped in that town in the last 6 1/2 years because of that.

If the La Crosse city council wants to get involved in state and federal politics, fine. I'm done with La Crosse also. I can spend my money in cities that don't attack my beliefs.

Dave from Wisc

What is the council's position on abortion? I'd like to see them pass a resolution supporting life.

Buggs Raplin

Absolutely. Thank you. How does the council feel on the question of abortion which I believe is killing babies, obfuscated by men as a woman's choice. So men can knock up a woman, and get her an abortion, and go about their merry ways, leaving the woman with the guilt of ending a life, a beating heart.

Dave from Wisc

We're on the same page. I am not a resident of La Crosse, but perhaps some locals can get a proposal together and have the council support life. Imagine how that council meeting will go, but if they want to get involved in non-city politics......

Redwall

Remember, they didnt debate the merits of the question, it was only if the question should be the Council's business.

So they should not mind at all with having referendums on more conservative issues as well as their liberal favs.

capedcrusader

Well, if you really feel that strongly about it why don't you ask the question why NO President in history has made a concerted effort to end abortion? Not a one. Not Ronald Reagan who was for abortion before he was against it and not any President since. Why don't you ask that question of your beloved President Trump? There are already people on here asking why the council is dealing with and discussing problems like that. Why not ask it of someone that can do something about it? In the meantime perhaps you and "Dave from Wisc" could stand on the corner by Mayo and exercise your right to protest in peace.

Redwall

So true, and dont forget gun control, hunting, free college tuition, open borders....why not just vote to support the entire democratic platform and get it over with. That is, after all, the end game.

capedcrusader

The "end game" for who?

billr

Perhaps the next time these folks see the inside of a church, they should ask God who is is charge of climate.

Buggs Raplin

Although global warming is a hoax, I have no problem with the council occasionally taking up hot topics. I don't see it as a waste of time.

capedcrusader

I think you should run for council. Then you could talk about that hot topic and actually discuss "the hoax" instead of writing a letter to the paper that nobody can respond to.

Buggs Raplin

My political career is over,. I did my best to oppose the north/south corridor; I did my best to oppose the war in Iraq, and I did my best to oppose a transportation budget that included the corridor, when that Department was deep, deep in debt. I lost big time, but I was out there spending my own money, enduring the multiple, nasty rejections of people I asked just to sign my nomination papers. I've been in the arena; I've suffered the losses, but I haven't just been a complainer who only writes letters to the editor. I've done that, and a lot more.-Chip DeNure..care to identify yourself caped?

capedcrusader

You asked that before. You've been on the internet long enough to know (at least since Jimmy Gillmans blog) that people like me don't want to deal with the phony personal attacks instead of attacking the message. Even the paper must agree with that as now you can't respond to letter writers even when you do know their identity. For example, the way you have attacked "Cassandra". It accomplishes nothing and in the end makes YOU look worse. Even worse than you supporting the criminal Trump all the time. If I can give you any advice at all it would be to stop wasting your time writing ad nauseam about Global warming/Climate change being a hoax and Hillary Clinton and start engaging in discussions worthy of anyone else's attention. Trumps conduct in office and before deserves your attention to detail. If you can't focus on anything else at all it's no wonder why more and more people are coming to the conclusion that you are irrelevant. Save yourself. More importantly, save the rest of your life.

Rick Czeczok

Well said Buggs. Actions say more then any words that mighty mouth or doggy doodle or whatever name he hide behind today is just a do nothing complainer, angry, bitter man who needs help. If you read one of his comments you have read them all since it's always the same. Now watch he will attach me, oh didn't see that coming..... HA HA HA HA HA

capedcrusader

See what I mean Buggs? "Rick Czeczk" helped make my point. Thank You!

Slider

If the board is spending time on issues in which they have zero impact, then its time to refocus on issues that they can. The amount of time is wasted and needs to stop. Fix the roads and help attract businesses!

El Duderino

More radical, out-of-touch, liberalism on display. It's a slippery slope. Madison has free storage lockers in their public parking ramps for their blossoming homeless population and has giving many of them FREE tiny homes for a couple of years now. The list of those who voted yes for this non-sense will prove handy during the next election...oh, and my printer works great! I'll be able to hand out hundreds of copies of the names of those who are wasting our tax dollars to people that, yah know, want their elected officials to actually accomplish something. How about we concentrate on the meth & heroin issue, the drunk driving epidemic around here and hiring additional cops--or working on paying for our share of this looming $90 million roads bill in La Crosse County?

capedcrusader

Taxes aren't going down if you hire "additional cops". Where are you going to get the money? And we don't have a drunk driving "epidemic".

Buggs Raplin

I've attacked Cassandra? I think you chose the wrong verb there Mr. Anonymous.

capedcrusader

Nice dodge again as usual. Most people on here are "anonymous". You becoming a stalker now that you can't answer the questions?

Rick Czeczok

So Dogcaper is a follower of most. Didn't see that one coming either......HA HA HA HA HA.
You have to have lead something in order to be a leader.

capedcrusader

Hey Rick, instead of trolling why don't you answer my question when you made your veiled threat regarding slander? Who slandered you? And how about answering without name calling...Or can't you?

capedcrusader

Here Rick, I'll make it easier for you to remember in case you've forgotten:
Rick Czeczok Dec 24, 2017 12:11pm
Well Cape you can read and use google as your favorite source once again. Learn that when you insult and try to ruin the integrity of someone in a paper, you can be charged and in a court of law for slander. The DA only has to call the tribune for your real name. So you and some others on this board keep doing what you are doing and you will see that there are laws as far as what the 1st amendment will protect you against. Now go on google and start reading.

capedcrusader Dec 24, 2017 1:18pm
Rick Czeczok, what's your point? Who on here ""slandered" you? I can't wait to hear this one.

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