New mayor, council president in Oconto Falls

Outgoing mayor saluted after 12 years in office
Warren Bluhm
News Editor

UPDATE: Alderperson Ashley Bahrke is the first woman to serve as Oconto Falls City Council president since Gail Coopman. The original version of this article contained incorrect information. We apologize for the error.

Quietly and without fanfare, Oconto Falls Mayor Brad Rice presided over the old business on the council’s April 16 agenda, accepted a plaque thanking him for his service, adjourned and took a seat in the audience to watch newly elected Mayor Clint Braun take the oath of office and conduct the new business.

After 21 years in Oconto Falls city government — nine on the city council and 12 as mayor — Rice seemed content to step out of public life without comment.

His wife, Mary Beth, was not. She stood up to speak before the outgoing mayor stepped down, but he told her she was out of order, so she waited until the public comment portion of the new council’s agenda.

Mary Beth Rice, who herself worked at city hall for three decades, said some people took her husband’s reserved personality as a sign that his heart was not in the job as mayor.

“In all of the days and to this day, I know just how much his heart was in it,” she said. “He wasn’t the big noise, the big Here-I-am, let’s-get-this-done thing, and yet he chose to serve with thoughtfulness, intelligence and with a more measured manner.

“I want to thank the city council for all they do, (City Administrator) Peter (Wills) for all he does, and all the office staff, the departments for the city, for all the work that you do for us. Lastly I want to thank my husband for all his dedication and service.”

With that, Mary Beth Rice sat down next to her husband to applause.

Among the old business, the council approved a 20-year loan for $500,000 — $370,000 to cover the city’s share of the new fire station, which is being built largely with a $7 million federal grant; up to $110,000 to replace the 40-year-old roof at the old fire station on Jackson Street; and about $30,000 to replace the ancient outfield fence at the Memorial Field ball diamond.

Once Braun — who defeated Rice in the April 2 election — was sworn in, along with re-elected council members Jeff McDonald, Marty Coopman and Tim Holman and new Municipal Judge Richard Cromell, the council elected Alderperson Ashley Bahrke as its new president.

Coopman said he believed Bahrke is the first woman to serve as council president in the more than 100 years that Oconto Falls has been a city. It was later determined that former alderperson Gail Coopman served as president before Bahrke.

At Holman’s suggestion, the council also voted to change the time of its regular meetings to 6 p.m. It has been meeting at 7 p.m. for as long as most people in attendance could remember. Wills said there’s nothing in city ordinances to prevent the change, nor is it unprecedented to change the meeting time.

In searching old meeting minutes on an unrelated matter, Wills said he found records of the council meeting regularly at 10 a.m. during the 1960s.

The vote for the change was 4-1, with Coopman noting that the council routinely holds public hearings and committee meetings an hour beforehand. He said moving those sessions to 5 p.m. could make it harder for the public to attend.

The 6 p.m. start time was approved starting in June, because public notices have already been posted for a 6:45 p.m. public hearing before the May 14 council meeting.