Mayor and city council continue rocky relationship into 2012

LA CROSSE, Wis. — Mayor Matt Harter and the La Crosse City Council are off to a rocky start so far in 2012.

This week, the mayor vetoed two referendums questions that were supposed to appear on the April ballot and now some council members are asking for answers.

Both the mayor and council members agree, they want to do what’s best for the public. Where they disagree is how to decide what that is.

When it comes to figuring out what’s best for the City of La Crosse, council member Bob Seaquist wants to hear from the community.

“We’re elected representatives, but there’s just sometimes some issues that are so big that it’s time to let the public vote and we have a perfect opportunity,” said Seaquist.

While the mayor agrees, he wants the public to carefully make one decision at a time.

“I do believe it is the best order receiving the undivided attention of the voters without the distraction of other questions on the ballot,” said Harter.


Voters usually see one referendum question on a ballot. This spring, it’s about hiring a city administrator. The mayor feels that question is important enough to be the only one on the ballot. That is why he vetoed two other referendums: one about billboards and another about shrinking the size of the city council.

“The question that is on the ballot is the largest change to our city government since our city was adopted and chartered,” said Harter. “So that does warrant a good deal of discussion and education and I think additional questions on the ballot will cloud the importance of that issue.”

But council member Dick Swantz disagrees.

“I think the Mayor is underestimating the voter’s intelligence and ability to sort things out,” said Swantz. “This is not very confusing. There’s a question on there, whether we should establish a position for a city administrator and then there were a couple opinion questions about should we downsize the council. If 80 percent of the people said ‘yes,’ downsize the council maybe we’ll do something about it.”

Council members who worked on both of these referendums feel voters can handle multiple questions on the April ballot.

“The two questions about the signs are very straightforward,” said Seaquist. “Simple sentences. The question about the size of the City Council is a very simple question. People can figure this out. They’re not dumb, they’re very smart.”

If these two advisory referendums don’t make it to the April ballot, the mayor says voters will likely see these issues on future ballots in the fall.

Council members are planning a special meeting next week to try and override the mayor’s vetoes. Since the new council began in April, the council has overridden all 14 of Mayor Harter’s vetoes.