City council approves budget, keeping hens, $1 pot fine

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- Part of Tuesday’s legislative agenda for the Eau Claire City Council had roots in controversy from last year.

By a 7-to-3 vote, the council now allows for members to bring children, family members or others to be seated with them during public meetings.

"I can support this policy, because it helps us to build a culture for ordinary citizens to find meaning and a love for their community through inclusive and accessible public engagement," council member Catherine Emmanuelle said Tuesday.

This reversed a decision the council made last year, after Emmanuelle requested to breastfeed her newborn son on the dais during meetings – a point not lost on those who voted against it.

"Had they just made it about that, that seems to me like that would have addressed the elephant in the room, as it is or were,” council member Dave Strobel said Tuesday. “The way it is now, I just can't support this. I don't think this is a good idea."

Chickens had a place on the legislative agenda. The council approved allowing those living in the city to keep up to five hens in their backyards – this, by an 8-to-2 vote, with council members Strobel and Terry Weld voting no.

"I've been in communities where there are urban chickens and it's really just a joy to be there, to see people honoring their food and animals in that way," council member Katie Beaton said.

Perhaps the largest debates surround penalties for possession of marijuana – reducing the range of penalties for possession down to $1. It also passed, but an amendment put forth by Weld, which was not passed, called for a smaller reduction in the fines.

"I really strongly believe that the citation should be equal to drinking a beer,” Weld said. “They are equal – if not ... I would say a beer is not going to impair your judgement as much."

As for the 2019 operating budget, a couple of the amendments tacked on call for new positions at the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library and creating a housing program to help those who've had evictions or convictions.