Grau leaving Elkader Council

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Eric Grau

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


It was roughly two years ago when Eric Grau was elected to the Elkader City Council after running a successful campaign against a sizable field. He ran because of the roots that tie him to the community and having grown up here. He had developed a love for the community and it drove him to jump at the chance to give back to the place that had treated him so well. 


However, in the last few weeks, circumstances have changed for Grau, leading him to make the difficult decision to resign at a recent council meeting. While he could’ve stayed on to fulfill his term, given his affinity for the town, it just didn’t feel right.


“My family circumstances have changed in that I will need to spend a lot more time away from Elkader…for the next two to four years. Even though I could have done meetings online, I didn’t think it was fair to the people of Elkader if I spent so much time away from here,” Grau said.


Looking back on his two years in office, it all started when Grau ran on a campaign that looked to strike a balance between sustainability and growth, while also maintaining Elkader’s small town atmosphere. It was a balance that sought ways to make the town as attractive as possible to everyone, including residents, tourists and even people just driving by. Even from the highway, one could see—or at least envision—what everyone who lives in town or visits has witnessed. Grau labeled advantages like the thriving arts community, opera house and its performances, the Turkey River and of course, Elkader’s scenic setting.   


It is for that reason that, during his time on the council, Grau wanted to do something about the tennis courts, which had been rundown into a condition he called an “embarrassment” during the campaign. Once on the council, it became a staple of his inquiries, always making sure progress was being made. As a result, on July 25, work officially began to replace the old courts. 


But Grau didn’t take the credit. Instead, he passed it to the volunteers who worked on upgrading the courts, like Jay Moser and John Moyna, and all they did to make it a reality. The new blacktop is a more positive reflection of what lies within Elkader to the traveler along Highway 13. 


Another signature issue for Grau was his opposition to an ordinance that requires a permit to plant trees in the right of way, something he long protested could lead to the end of tree lined streets in certain neighborhoods, making them less aesthetically appealing. It’s an accomplishment he was unable to achieve, but aesthetics was something he fought hard for as a council member—finding that balance between enhancing how Elkader looks while not undermining the rights of citizens to do what they want with their properties. 


This balance has impacted other ordinance votes, most notably regarding shipping container, where aesthetics has run headlong into the rights of property owners and which should take precedence. It’s an issue likely to remain unresolved as Grau exits the council. 


Grau was an active member of the council, consistently informative when it came to his decisions and the reasons behind them. He wasn’t a man of many words, just the important ones, and working with other members to solve problems was something he enjoyed. In fact, it was his favorite thing about being on the council. 


“My favorite thing about being on council is working through the issues with other council members, trying to find a way to make this a better place. Elkader is a great little town, with so much potential. We haven’t reached it yet, but I enjoyed working on the council to move in that direction,” Grau said. 


Though Grau’s stay was brief, his decisions have impacted Elkader. His presence had an impact on fellow council members, like Deb Schmidt, who came to office with Grau. Both shared the campaign journey in 2021, as Schmidt joked, “not knowing what to expect.” 


“We both were scared, excited and hoping we’d get a vote. Elkader was on our heart. I know when the numbers came in I couldn’t quit grinning. Eric called me with the same enthusiasm. It’s been a pleasure to work with him. He will be missed,” Schmidt said. 


Tony Hauber sat next to Grau at council meetings and had nothing but high praise for the last two years.  


“It was a pleasure to work with Eric. He was an engaged member of the council who brought a lot of thoughtfulness to his decisions. Though his presence will be missed, his prioritization of his family’s needs is something I understand and respect,” Hauber said. 


Elkader Mayor Josh Pope was thankful for Grau’s service, but left the door open, stating, “I really appreciate Eric’s service to the council. Although shorter than expected, he has indicated he may be back. So we look forward to that.”


Returning is also something Grau spoke about during the council’s vote on his resignation and in the interview for this article. 


Addressing the community, Grau said, “Thank you so much for having confidence in me to represent you on council. I’m sorry I couldn’t serve for the entire four years, but when my personal situation changes, I would like the opportunity to run again and, if you are willing, to represent you again.”


Grau is expected to serve until November, though it’s unclear if that will be the case. The decision to remain until the election to fill the vacancy was made with Elkader in mind, so there will be no extra costs incurred due to the need for a special election. 


Grau leaves behind a legacy of thoughtfulness and an Elkader-first approach that will need to be filled, but it doesn’t mean he will be too far away or stop trying to help Elkader find that balance. 


“I would like to continue to work to improve Elkader in whatever way I can, to help encourage more businesses to locate here and to increase the opportunities for youth to have things to do in their free time. And please, if you care about what happens here, do your civic duty and run for council,” Grau said.

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