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City resident Kerri Ryan was one of the most animated speakers of the night. (Metro Wire photo)

Wiza showed ‘poor leadership,’ left public ‘floundering’ on referendum

Editor’s note: A video of the Aug. 15 exchange is at the end of this article.

By Brandi Makuski

City officials took some hard hits over the referendum during the non-agenda public comment period at Monday night’s city council meeting.

Kerri Ryan, who lives on Fifth Ave., spoke numerous times throughout the Aug. 15 meeting and had some harsh words for Wiza related to the Aug. 9 referendum vote.

“I’m here because I’m not super happy with the way you’ve led our community through this. I think you’ve talked out of both sides of your mouth,” Ryan said. “I think you’ve given people wishy-washy information: ‘We might do this, we might do that.’ I don’t believe that you are giving people accurate data. I think you’re picking the most nebulous, dissembling nonsense, and telling people that, so you’re not getting people mad at you. I know you want to be re-elected, I know you’re a theater kid, I know you don’t like people being mad at you, but…I mean, you are a theater kid, that’s fine. It is. Bro, I was going through the old [Stevens Point] Journal, you’re totally in all kinds of community theater. That’s being a theater kid. I get it, you’re Mr. Stevens Point, you want to be liked, but this is something that, we can look at the data, we can look at the facts, we can look at reason…and I don’t see why you’re being so wishy-washy. You should back [city] council. I’m sick of you throwing them under the bus. It’s poor leadership. And you and Brandi gin up a bunch of crap together. It’s like Fox News. It’s bullsh—t.”

City resident Keith Kedrowski thanked everyone who voted in favor of the referendum, then, pointing to the council, he added, “I’m sorry, I’m not thanking you; you just didn’t listen.”

Lindbergh Ave. resident Bob Larson, who previously served on the Stevens Point School Board, and in April launched an unsuccessful bid to out seat Keely Fishler in District 10, reminded the council he’d provided them with a suggestion to test a road lane scenario.

Kevin Flatoff: “It was the only way to protect us from getting stuck with a two-lane road.” (Metro Wire photo)

“I brought this up a couple of months ago, mayor, about running a test from Patch St. to Fourth Ave., using the inside lanes and turn lanes and the outside lanes as driving lanes,” Larson said. “City council and the past mayor made a $50 million mistake by taking ownership of Bus. 51. Let’s not make another $50 million mistake. Why can’t we do a test? You’ve got the paint machine, let’s use it. Let’s do a 13-week test on this. Then we’ll know once and for all if it’s workable or not workable.”

Kevin Flatoff, who became the de facto leader of the referendum effort when he introduced the petition for the cause last year, offered a summary explanation of the referendum from the podium.

“As business owners on the corridor, if we do nothing at all, it becomes a two-lane road diet. That was made pretty clear and evident by our city council and (Public Works Director) Scott Beduhn and AECOM. The only way for us to address it in a binding manner through a referendum was to create an ordinance in Stevens Point requiring road projections over $1 million to go to a binding referendum,” Flatoff said. “If we were to address Bus. 51 by itself, it would be an advisory referendum and nothing more.”

Flatoff said until August 2024, the city can’t begin any construction on the Bus. 51 project unless it’s approved by future referendum votes—unless a public vote overturns the Aug. 9 referendum in two years.

“It was the only way to protect us from getting stuck with a two-lane road,” he said.

Keith Biesack, who owns the Caravan Wine Shop in Downtown Stevens Point, said he, too, was concerned about the lack of public education on the Aug. 9 referendum.

“I think it’s pretty clear that the referendum was confusing to a lot of people, even now after it’s been voted on. I put the lack of community education on you; the fact we knew nothing about…the city presented nothing about explaining the complexities of the referendum is shameful,” said Biesack. “That you would let a referendum without stepping forward to allow the community the chance to learn out it is potentially disastrous.”

Biesak also referenced a July 21 special edition of Wiza’s “Talking Point” video series, wherein Wiza and Beduhn discuss Bus. 51. Biesak said the video wasn’t widely watched, and he wasn’t able to find other resources explaining the referendum, outside of wildly inaccurate yard signs posted in yards across the city.

“It’s not that the community is divided; it’s that the community is lacking information. You should lead by educating people. Arm them with information rather than trying to play both sides,” he said, adding the city left residents “floundering” until after the election.

The city should have held “many public forums” or offered some type of signage explaining the referendum. He said many people didn’t even know where to look for information, or what to ask when they did.

“These million-dollar decisions are now on the onus of the people. How did it come to this? We knew for months what the referendum was about and nothing happened,” Biesak said.

According to City Clerk Kari Yenter, 6,098 voters turned out for Aug. 9 vote, which included a partisan primary and the road construction referendum. While the referendum, crafted by a lawyer hired by Flatoff, doesn’t specifically reference Bus. 51, it does prevent the city from beginning any public transportation project costing $1 million or more unless approved by future referendum votes.

Certified results of the Aug. 9 election put the referendum in the winning column by 31 votes. Yenter said the city saw 44 percent voter turn out—unusually high for a primary election, she said.