A controversial Wausau sculpture project may have violated state laws by not opening the process to competitive bids, according to a legal report commissioned by the city.
It's the first thing you see when you take the Highway 52 Stewart Avenue corridor into Wausau: 18 rust-brown metal birds — some standing, some in flight — on a rebuilt median strip.
Some Wausau residents, like Lanore Rusch, love them. “The first time I saw them I was just stunned because I thought they were real,” Rusch said. “The light was kind of low, and then I looked, and my gosh, they're just beautiful. They're just beautiful.”
Some Wausau residents, like Ed Marek: not so much. “In our family, we call them the 'goosed geese.' When I drive by them, I just say, 'why are they there?' I mean, what's the significance? What's the meaning of those birds?”
But the sculptures and median reconstruction may have been done illegally, according to a law firm hired by the city.
Alderman Dave Oberbeck says bids should have been taken. “When it goes over $25,000, that must be bid. Staff did not follow those procedures, and we need to look into that, so that does not happen in the future.”
Oberbeck says the bird sculptures were presented as unique, one-of-a-kind items that did not require bids.
“When it was brought to the finance committee,” he said, “it was seen as a unique piece of artwork, that staff had told us that no other ones could reproduce that. It's not like you're going out and buying a piece of mechanical equipment.”
Oberbeck says he's more concerned about the lack of bids for the construction work than the sculptures, which were $48,000 of the $111,000 project. A local company, EchoScapes, created the birds.