Fostering Civic Engagement in Wausau — One Meeting at a Time

Written by Katie Rosenberg

On Wausau’s Southeast side, civic engagement is more than a buzzword…

On Election Day, voter turnout is generally 10% higher in District 1 than the average voter turnout is for the city of Wausau. Dozens of people show up and participate each month at neighborhood meetings, and this particular neighborhood has been home to circuit court judges, school board members, a state representative, and a congressional representative.

Activists of all stripes are tucked into every corner of my neighborhood!

I don’t have an exact calculation, but my neighborhood might also be home to the highest concentration of journalists, teachers, and librarians as well. There’s something about the Southeast side that fosters a sense of civic purpose.

That’s why when I was first elected to the Marathon County Board in 2016, I knew that I had to keep my Southeast side neighbors informed on a regular basis… I wasn’t sure that just showing up to neighborhood meetings was going to be enough.

Luckily, another former journalist was also elected to represent District 1 on Wausau’s City Council: Patrick Peckham.

Alder Patrick Peckham.

Together, we decided that we should hold community listening sessions for our district about once every 4 to 6 months.

“It’s been great working with Supervisor Rosenberg on these meetings. We encourage each other to keep them going, and it serves District 1 residents because they aren’t just coming to hear about the city or about the county; they get both.” — Alder Pat Peckham

It might be surprising for folks to learn that I’m naturally introverted and contemplative, but it takes some amount of effort for me to prepare and participate in these listening sessions. At our first few meetings, I was SO nervous….

I would sweat.

I’d hear my own voice booming in my head.

I’d carry notecards so I could remember what I wanted to say.

But after eight meetings in the past 2 years, I feel pretty comfortable now. Dare I say it, I even look forward to these meetings! (And I ditched my notecards too.)

It also helps that we’ve had such a great reception to our listening sessions. That positive reinforcement makes it easy to schedule another one.

 “We noticed at one of our meetings that one fellow left briefly but came back. We learned afterward he had phoned his wife, asking her to pick up their kids from dance lessons because he didn’t want to leave our meeting.” — Alder Pat Peckham

We’ve tried to expand our constituent meetings to give our neighbors more opportunities to sound off. County Administrator Brad Karger and Wausau Mayor Robert Mielke are regular attendees, too.

Community_Meeting - group photo
Wausau Mayor Robert Mielke, County Administrator Brad Karger, Wausau Alder Pat Peckham, and Supervisor Katie Rosenberg (holding the Administrator Karger’s Papillon, Pierre) at a District 1 meeting.

Last year, we went even bigger when we held a meeting at the Marathon County Public Library and included subject matter experts to discuss topics like the opioid crisis, local roads, and groundwater. State Senator Jerry Petrowski and State Representative Pat Snyder participated as well, and attendees got a crash course in how state and local governments work together — and got to the heart of some of the pitfalls.

Community_Meeting 2
Representative Pat Snyder, Kids Voting Wisconsin – Marathon County Director Kaitlin McNamara, and Senator Jerry Petrowski at an April 2017 Community Confab event.

As elected officials, we’re charged with making decisions that have the potential to affect our community for generations.

In the past few months, the Marathon County Board came together to create policies on metallic mining zoning regulations, not just a vision but millions of dollars in funding for North Central Health Care, and soon we’ll have to piece together a multimillion-dollar county budget that will seemingly never have enough money to fund all of our priorities.

I realize that our values as a community are on the line.

The citizens of Marathon County have poured their lives into the funding that they pay in taxes, and in return, we are responsible for being good stewards of those dollars.

That means that, as elected officials, we have a bigger job than just showing up to vote once a month.

It’s even bigger than ensuring that we weigh in, on the record, during debates at meetings.

It’s even bigger than publishing updates on social media or talking to the media.

We have a duty to inform the public about what’s going on, to make our cases for the issues, and to listen to our neighbors.

Community_Meeting 3
District 1 resident Jody Maier addressing meeting goers about the importance of community engagement at an April 2017 Community Confab event.

Our next community engagement meeting will likely be in October 2018 at the Wausau Downtown Airport.  

I invite you to share what’s on your mind. (You can even bring notecards if you’d like!)

Community_Meeting 4
Sign at a District 1 meeting at the Wausau Downtown Airport.

Or just come take a listen (and enjoy a cookie) as Pat and I update our neighbors on city- and county-level goings on.

You need not be a Southeast sider to attend. (Or to take a selfie with us!)

Supervisor Katie Rosenberg and Alder Pat Peckham at a District 1 meeting.

We hope to see you there!

Katie Rosenberg - County Board Supervisor District No. 1Katie Rosenberg

Marathon County Board Supervisor |  District 1

Katie Rosenberg is a Marathon County Board Supervisor representing District 1. She is passionate about engaging the community and is active on social media and in organizing neighborhood constituent meetings with her Wausau City Council counterpart, Alderperson Pat Peckham. In her free time, you can find Katie enjoying the outdoors with her husband on bike, on roller skates, and in trail shoes. She also enjoys attending all manner of political events, traveling the world, and cooking up a mean vegetarian soup.  Email Katie Rosenberg  

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