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Should La Crosse’s District 5 have city council representation now, or wait until April?



Two pieces of legislation — one from the council president and another from the mayor, as the two see things differently — for a La Crosse committee to vote next week on getting District 5 city council representation. 

One item is for the Judiciary and Administration Committee (J&A) to vote Tuesday on having the city council appoint a District 5 rep., while the other is to hold a special election in April next year to replace Jenasea Hameister, who resigned from council last month.

Instead of moving to immediately appoint a new member to the council for the district, council president Chris Kahlow believes there should be a special election in April instead.

District 5 is where UW-La Crosse is located and Kahlow chose not to appoint a member to the council now because it would be unfair to incoming freshmen and others, who would be first moving to the dorms at the university.

“Folks, who may want to run for that seat, wouldn’t be living in the district and wouldn’t have an address in the dorm yet,” Kahlow said. “Hence, they couldn’t even apply. Couldn’t even take out papers. So, that whole group of people would be left out, basically and not given that opportunity.”

Under Kahlow’s thinking, if everyone can’t get a chance to represent District 5 for the next 7-8 months, then nobody should represent the district.

It was unclear from the city clerk’s office the last time La Crosse had a UW-L freshman, who most likely would be first moving into the dorms, on the city council. Dorm residents do know their address in June, so sophomores returning to UW-L could be eligible to apply.

Meanwhile, La Crosse Mayor Mitch Reynolds countered Kahlow’s thinking by adding another bit of legislation to the J&A agenda to appoint a council rep. for the district. Reynolds does not want to see District 5 residents be without representation for that long.

“I don’t like that as a practice and I think that we should try to avoid that,” Reynolds said. “I also recognize that District 5 is one of those seats — because it’s usually a college student that represents that seat — that we will continually run into this situation where a council representative gets elected from that district — or gets appointed to that district — and someone doesn’t serve out a term.”

The J&A Committee next week, and the council the week after, can vote for or against both pieces of legislation. If they vote yes for both, District 5 would likely have representation by September and then hold a special election in April for whoever wanted to run for the seat. 

“The ordinances say that if the council seat is not filled or if the council president does not move to fill the seat within 30 days, then the city council can act on a resolution to fill the seat,” Reynolds said. “In other words, the city council can bypass the decision of the council president and if they decide to do it, and fill that seat, through an appointment — now that doesn’t mean there isn’t an election in April 2025, it just means that that seat would have someone in it after an appointment up until that point.”

To be eligible for city council, a rep. must live in the district for 28 days prior to the election or appointment. 

“Option B, I’m going to call it, ‘Leave the seat vacant until 2025 and request a special election,’ was the most democratic in representation, particularly as many residents in District 5 will not be residing in the district until late August, early September,” Kahlow said. “So the election in April 2025 gives equal opportunities for all residents, to have that opportunity to run for office for that open seat.”

If the council were to appoint a member during its September monthly meeting, a UW-L freshman, who wanted to run for council in a city they’d likely never lived before, would have to move in by Aug. 15. Freshmen this year move into the dorms Aug. 23 — too late.

The council could also vote no on both items, which would mean District 5 would not have representation until May of 2027, when Hameister’s original term would be up. 

Host of WIZM's La Crosse Talk PM | University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point graduate | Hometown: Greenville, Wis | Avid noonball basketball player and sand volleyballer in La Crosse

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