Penker Steps Down from Longtime Role in Public Comments

Penker Described as “Conscience” of City Council

Marshfield, WI (OnFocus) A recurring, well-informed presence during city government’s public comment period announced to Common Council he will “retire” from the podium.

Bill Penker noted he’s been communicating with aldermen since 1991 and coming to the podium for over 20 years, a period that encompasses seven mayors and four city administrators. His public comments were backed by an extensive research process, done voluntarily, aimed to better inform the council in their decision-making.

Taking the podium at this week’s Common Council meeting, Penker thanked several city officials who had provided valuable assistance and support over the years and held up his last empty notebook, which already contained 38 pages of research for an upcoming topic.

“Those of you who thought I’m retiring from citizen comment, I’m retiring,” he said. “Thanks a lot, I enjoyed it.”

Penker plans to keep attending Council meetings and is currently a member of the Plan Commission. Over the years he’s been heavily involved in local government, serving terms on the Police and Fire Commission, the Historic Preservation Committee, among many others.

Ed Wagner served as an alderman for 12 years and saw Penker’s contributions as an asset to city government.

“I can say honestly that Bill has been the conscience of the Council on so many issues,” he said. “I think he’s absolutely indispensable.”

Early on Wagner discovered that Penker was the go-to person for anything related to the police and fire departments, which was valuable in making a decision about funding a new fire station, a project completed in 2010. Penker served on both fire station study committees.

“I was a stick in the mud and I didn’t want to spend as much money as we spent on the fire station, but Bill was a great advocate for the firefighters and the station,” Wagner recalled.

Penker’s research was also valuable when a push came in the early 2000s to combine the police and fire departments under a public safety director position, which was ultimately voted down.

“One thing about Bill is he is ahead of the curve. He’s thinking beyond the immediate issue and beyond that into the consequences,” Wagner said. “He’s trying to get the Council to think of those consequences and try and join him ahead of the curve. There aren’t many people who do that.”

Alderman Chris Jockheck noted that Penker could speak to an issue in a helpful way, with constructive criticism, and was always well-informed on his stance.

“That’s how he was different and that’s what made him special,” he said. “He always looked at the future of the community and had that in mind to make the community a better place. He was critical when it needed to be done.”

He sees Penker as a example to emulate when it comes to participating in city government.

“It would be helpful to have more people like Bill who would talk to us and comment to us. For the most part we don’t hear from people unless it’s an issue that directly impacts them. Bill wasn’t that way,” Jockheck said. “He felt he needed to help guide the conscience of the Council no matter what the topic was. It wasn’t only things he would be impacted by. It was always about the betterment of the community.”

“I don’t think we’re ever going to find anybody to replace him anytime soon,” said Wagner.