Council votes to postpone discussion on Confluence Project Ref. - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

City council postpones discussion on Confluence Project referendum indefinitely


Eau Claire (WQOW) - Many have been tallied ... And there are still more to come. On Tuesday there was another vote about the future of the Confluence Project.

Just last month, the Eau Claire City Council voiced support for the project with a conditional pledge to the community arts center.  At the time, there was talk of a referendum on the project. That conversation was put on the back burner until Tuesday's meeting.

On Tuesday, the city council voted unanimously to postpone any further discussion on a referendum indefinitely.  Members felt they did not have enough information yet to make a decision on the wording of a question, or if they even wanted one.   However, that's not to say the possibility of a referendum is off the table.

Council member, Monica Lewis, says, "I think what we did is we ended this discussion of discussing having a referendum."

"Now we need to have a concrete proposal that could be brought forward, and that could be done anytime between now and early January," explains council member, Dave Duax.  

Before the vote, opinions both for and against a Confluence Project Referendum were voiced.

Council member, Bob Von Haden, says, "My whole interest in this was that we would get some type of item on the ballot in April so the citizens would have the opportunity to express their opinion in relationship to the Confluence Project."

"This is too complex an issue to have a referendum and I believe that we have heard more than enough from the citizens of this community about the project and what they want," says council member  Kathy Mitchell.

With or without the city council's backing, signatures collected by a citizen's referendum committee could force a vote this spring.   But, as WQOW News 18 has reported, the city attorney feels the council's vote on a conditional pledge would trump a referendum. 

Lewis says, "If it comes in, 3,600 people sign it, lets put it on the ballot and let's vote for it. And don't nit pick it, and let's not have attorneys beat this thing up and it ends up being debated in the courts."

A referendum question written by any city council member is also an option. That question would still have to be approved by the council as a whole.

Duax says, "I think the voters need to have to weigh in on anything this major but, crafting a referendum is very difficult. One that is fair to the people and fair to the project."

Not to mention a project as complicated is still changing. "And as we speak, the conditions under which this might operate, or maybe built are changing because we continue to get new information, either from the state of Wisconsin or the university, or from the developer," explains Duax.

So far, a citizen group has not come forward with its own wording. Even if they do collect enough signatures to force a referendum, the city council would still have the option of writing its own.

At that point, there would be a discussion about which one makes it to the ballot.

There's also the issue of the $5 million pledge. 

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