A look back at Mayor Harter’s rocky year

LA CROSSE, Wis. — It’s been a turbulent year for Mayor Matt Harter — one that has brought a strained relationship between his office and City Council.

He started the year off on the wrong foot with an ethics violation.

“There’s always bumps along the road, and that certainly was one,” said Mayor Harter.

The City Ethics Board decided he had used his public position to try to help his family’s business when he and his father, the owner of Harter’s Quick Clean Up, tried to stop a solid waste study in the county.

“It is what it is. We live and we learn. And things come up that obviously we would have done differently, and that is certainly something looking back that I would have done differently after now receiving the criticism that I have received over it,” said Harter.

Then there were efforts by the mayor to cut spending in the Fire Department by refusing to fill vacant positions or let firefighters work overtime without his permission. A review eventually showed the department was not overly staffed.


Still, the Mayor’s feelings have not changed. It’s something he plans to pursue again in the next budget year.

Throughout all this, tension has been brewing between the mayor and City Council. The Council overrode several of the mayor’s biggest vetoes, including an ordinance that would have decriminalized possession of a small amount of marijuana, and one that would have allowed concealed carry in city buildings.

Looking back, it’s a pattern that sticks out to City Council President Audrey Kader.

“I think the mayor tended to use his veto probably more than he needed to. And you learn this in life as you mature, that there are some issues that are best left alone. And you pick your battles. There were a lot of veto battles this year,” said Kader.

But what stuck out to Kader the most this year was when Mayor Harter held a press conference opposing the creation of a city administrator position, before it was even debated by the Council.

Right after the mayor’s news conference, Kader confronted him, accusing him of preempting the Council’s process.

“Now there is a rift between the council and the mayor. And that’s sad,” said Kader.

And to top off a rocky year, the City Council overrode the mayor’s veto of the city budget by a landslide. But Mayor Harter says that’s just how the system of checks and balances works.

“Where there’s disagreement, where there may be a veto coming down from the executive office down to the council, I don’t think that necessarily should or does in and of itself damper a relationship,” said Mayor Harter.

Kader said if she could choose one word to sum up the past year with Mayor Harter, she would pick “challenging.”

“I think you can draw your own conclusions,” she said.

Mayor Harter said he still has not made a decision as to whether he will run for re-election.