The Janesville City Council agreed Monday to let an ordinance intended to discourage bullying advance to its next step, although the current draft seems likely to change.
That decision overrode a recommendation from Assistant City Attorney Tim Wellnitz. In a memorandum, Wellnitz wrote that the ordinance would be redundant because of existing city policies and state statutes.
The ordinance now will receive a public hearing Sept. 24.
Co-sponsors Jim Farrell and Jens Jorgensen were both dismayed by Wellnitz’s recommendation. Farrell said it was inappropriate to reject the policy at such an early stage before it could even be discussed further.
“It’s snuffing out transparency,” he said. “It’s snuffing out public participation and opinions.”
Nearly a dozen anti-bullying advocates spoke in favor of the policy. Some speakers were family members of 12-year-old Ellizabeth Jacobson, whose suicide earlier this year prompted calls for an anti-bullying ordinance.
But council member Sue Conley said the ordinance wasn’t good enough. The policy needed more public input from the Janesville Police Department and school district, she said.
She also worried that punishing parents with a fine, which is included in the current version of the ordinance, could have unintended consequences for low-income families.
Council members Tom Wolfe and Paul Williams said the policy likely could be strengthened or altered, but both voted to advance it.
The ordinance moved on via a 6-1 vote. Conley was the lone member to oppose it.
That vote came more than three hours after the council opened its meeting by declaring this week as “suicide prevention week” in Janesville.
Also Monday, the city council approved a modified tax increment financing policy that could give incentives to multifamily housing developments outside downtown.
The new policy is an attempt to fix Janesville’s housing shortage and will apply to development-ready sites throughout the city.
Council member Rich Gruber broadened the policy definition by asking the council to revoke a requirement that such properties be within city limits for at least 20 years, and the council agreed.
Gruber also tacked on a five-year sunset clause, and the council also agreed to that. The policy revisions will end in 2023 unless the council decides to extend them.
Gruber said the sunset clause ensures the council is being thoughtful and making sure incentives are helping fix the problem.
City officials, real estate developers and homeless advocates have spoken often this summer about the need for more multifamily housing. Tax increment financing is one way to improve Janesville’s tight inventory of available housing, they have said.
Economic Development Director Gale Price reiterated some of those talking points Monday. Rental rates haven’t kept pace with the cost of construction, so giving a developer a financial break on a project can help ensure it gets done.
The revised TIF policy passed 6-0. Council President Doug Marklein abstained from discussion and voting because his family runs a home-building business.