Written by Brad Karger
Q. Why did the County Board approve the resolution declaring June as “Pride Month” in Marathon County?
A. The June vote stimulated powerful discussions and a great deal of mindful soul searching. Having been a witness to the events, I was struck by the quality of thought and careful expression of contrary views. What I saw was rare:
It was democracy in action and more — it was social progress being made before my eyes.
The term “Pride Month” had different meanings to different people. Here is what it means to me:
LGBTQ+ Pride is a positive stance against discrimination and violence toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning people. It aims to promote self-affirmation, dignity, and equal rights for — and to increase visibility and build community around — those who identify as LGBTQ+. The term “pride” stands in stark contrast to shame and social stigma.
More than just words of kindness and affirmation, the County Board also made a commitment to itself and to the community, in the form of some specific action steps, that this wasn’t the end of the discussion and learning on this topic. It was just the beginning . . .
As an example of the quality and depth of the discussion, here is a small snippet of the words of Marathon County Board Chair Kurt Gibbs as he addressed the Board:
“At times, we all misspeak, but we must endeavor to keep talking and, more importantly, we must all keep listening.”
Q. What impact will the County Board resolution have?
A. First off, the resolution declares that regardless of age, gender identity, race, ethnicity, religion, marital status, national origin, sexual orientation, or disability, ALL people have the right to be treated fairly on the basis of their intrinsic value as human beings and that Marathon County is an open, inclusive, and diverse place in which to live and work.
Further, all Marathon County residents are invited to reflect on ways that we can live together with a commitment to mutual respect and understanding.
I invite you to watch a video of the County Board’s initial discussion on Pride Month, which took place at their June 18, 2019, educational meeting (see below).
You can also read Resolution #R-33-19 Declaring June as “Pride Month in Marathon County” from the County Board’s 6/25/19 meeting packet (PDF; see p. 47). The primary resolution was later amended to include the action steps of the substitute resolution (see p. 49), so what you see in the Board’s meeting packet will not contain the additions regarding Board education and public engagement.
The revised resolution calls for the County Board to further educate itself on the plight and challenges faced by minority and marginalized groups in order to help the Board better develop public policies that are truly inclusive.
One action step calls for a series of educational presentations to be given to the County Board with the goal of developing a common understanding surrounding the key concepts of diversity, discrimination, and inclusion. Organizing that presentation is my responsibility as County Administrator. Presentations I already have in the works for 2019 are as follows:
- September: Vocabulary and Key Concepts of Diversity and Inclusion
- October: History of Native Americans in Central Wisconsin
- December: History of Hmong People Currently Residing in Marathon County
The revised resolution also directs me to evaluate our employment policies and practices and our County Government facilities and work environments to ensure that they meet the County’s expectation of being open and inclusive to all — including people who identify as LGBTQ+. I have some ideas on how this might be best accomplished, but I don’t have a comprehensive plan yet. I’m in the process of pulling together a team of people from various disciplines and life experiences to help me develop an administrative plan for carrying out this policy directive of the County Board.
After our educational presentations and evaluations are completed, the County Board has said it will use public engagement to spark a community conversation with regard to policies and practices that might need to be changed or updated to ensure that our programs and policies live up to our County’s goal of being welcoming and inclusive to all people.
Q. Why did the County Board hold a vote to reconsider the Pride resolution in July when they had just passed it in June?
A. The County Board utilizes Robert’s Rules of Parliamentary Procedure to conduct its meetings, and those procedures provide for a motion to reconsider.
The motion can be made only by someone who voted on the prevailing side — that is, voted yes on the motion that passed or no on the motion that did not.
Motions to reconsider have been made infrequently in the past. Typically, the person bringing the motion argues that the decision was based upon facts which have subsequently been found not to be true, that there has since been a change in circumstances (such as the state has changed a program or a regulation in a way that had not been anticipated), that the decision was made in a hasty manner without fully considering the implications, or the that motion was ill advised and given more thought, the person changed their thinking on the topic.
A motion to reconsider is subject to time limits, though, typically needing to be done on the same day as the meeting that the motion passed or on the next day that business is conducted. At the Board’s voting meeting last evening, after about an hour of wrangling over whether the motion to reconsider was timely and thus in order, it was determined that the request to reconsider was properly submitted before the Board.
In this case, County Board Member Gary Beastrom, who voted for the resolution when it passed in June, requested that the motion be reconsidered.
During last night’s discussion, Supervisor Beastrom explained that in June, he voted with his heart, but since that meeting, he has heard from several people in his district and he has since concluded that the Athens community he represents thinks differently on the matter. Thus, he decided to ask the County Board to reconsider the resolution so that he could change his vote to better match the will of his district and to give other County Board members the same opportunity. (You may watch the full 7/23/2019 meeting here.)
I haven’t analyzed the vote yet, but I can report that it passed by a split vote in June and that the motion to reconsider failed by a split vote in July. The margin was two votes smaller in July than it was in June, but the majority still voted to declare June as Pride Month in Marathon County, thus the educational sessions and the assessment I was asked to do with regard to the County’s fair treatment of all residents and employees will go on as directed in the resolution that passed in June.
This is democracy, and democracy is sometimes messy. I’m reminded of what Winston Churchill said in a speech he gave to the House of Commons in 1947:
“No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms of government that have been tried from time to time.”
I’ve had several conversations about Pride Month in Marathon County on both sides of the issue. This is obviously a topic that many people are very passionate about. Some people have focused on the amount of time allocated to respecting the LGBTQ+ community — They see unfairness that our veterans have Veteran’s Day but Pride Month is the whole month of June. Others have said that there are already laws in place to protect Wisconsin residents from discrimination based on sexual orientation, so why do we need a “feel good resolution that has no teeth?” Still others believe that this is an important step forward in raising community awareness about a minority group that has for too long been invisible and subject to discrimination and victimization.
Everyone on both sides seems to agree, though, that people in the LGBTQ+ community have the right to be treated fairly on the basis of their intrinsic value as human beings. Maybe that is the common ground we need to move forward as a community. After all, our democracy was set up for social progress.
Each June, through this resolution, public officials and the broader community are encouraged to become better informed of and more sensitive to the struggles that this group may experience so we can try to be better, more understanding public servants and neighbors to ALL who live, work, play, and do business in Marathon County.
Marathon County Administrator
In his Administrator role, Brad Karger leads an organization with 700+ employees and an annual budget of more than $162 million. Brad has been in leadership positions with Marathon County for the past 30 years. He is known statewide for generating innovative ideas and solutions to problems, openness and transparency, and a commitment to community service that extends well beyond the normal workday. Email Brad Karger.
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Pride sign cropped from a photo by Rosemary Ketchum via Pexels.