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Eau Claire City Council passes chicken-keeping ordinance, lower pot fines, dais changes, and city budget

Eau Claire (WQOW) – It was a marathon night for the Eau Claire City Council; Tuesday’s legislative meeting lasted five hours as the council discussed a number of controversial topics.

That includes an attempt to repeal a year-old ban that kept kids off the city council dais. Although it wasn’t expressly written, some thought it was aimed at a council member who breastfed her baby while working.

Similar to last year, this was the topic of some serious debate, but in the end, the resolution passed with a 7-3 vote. It does more than just allow children to sit near the council members. It would also open the floor to family as well.

Those opposed felt the public deserves the council’s undivided attention, arguing allowing anyone onto the dais would be a distraction. “We’re stewards of the taxpayers’ money. We run a $130 million dollar business here with somebody else’s money,” said Council Member David Strobel. “The public elects us to do their business and they expect us to be paying attention and doing that business at all times.”

Those in favor said it’s important the council should be a comfortable place for people to express their opinion. “It was show us in a more normalized setting, instead of this quasi-courtroom, we would really look like a hospitable, compassionate city government,” Council Member Jill Christopherson said.

The council also amended the resolution to remove the word “disruptive”. They agreed it would be better to wish for the best situation, rather than assume each family member or child would cause a disturbance.

This would also allow the council to decide case-by-case whether a situation was disruptive or not. The resolution will go into effect immediately.

The council also approved lowering the penalty for first-time marijuana possession from $100-500 to just $1.

That measure passed by an 8 to 2 vote. It comes after 85 percent of Eau Claire voters said marijuana should be legal medicinally or recreationally in the referendum earlier this month. It would apply to a first-time offender caught with less than 25 grams of pot.

“Obviously we can’t legalize it on a local level, but we can set the fine. So we can make it as low of a priority as we want,” Acting President Andrew Werthmann said.

A reminder, despite the dollar fine, there are still court fees which would cost roughly $140.

After Tuesday’s meeting, Eau Claire residents can now keep chickens in their backyards.

The ordinance allows anyone within Eau Claire city limits to keep five hens, mainly for eggs. The vote comes after a number of people spoke in favor of the change at Monday’s public hearing.

Werthmann said the goal is to allow people the freedom to raise their own food, safely and affordably. “Part of that is in our DNA in Wisconsin. The idea of whether it’s your backyard garden or whether it’s you grew up on a farm, but I think that’s part of who we are as a community,” Werthmann told News 18.

Residents are allowed those five hens as long as they are granted a license, notify their neighbors, and pass a coop inspection.

The council also approved a resolution that urges Congress to recognize the scientific evidence of climate change, and levy a fee on carbon.

It will now ask national lawmakers to adopt a revenue-neutral fee on certain fossil fuels.

Lastly, the council passed a number of amendments to the 2019 budget.

Among the items, it approved two new positions at the library and created a program to help those with evictions or convictions to apply for housing.

The 2019 city budget was voted and finalized Tuesday.

Justin Esterly

Justin Esterly is our Daybreak meteorologist. Justin joined WQOW News 18 in May 2018.

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