Reducing board size on county agenda

JEFFERSON — The size of the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors will top the agenda when the full board meets on Tuesday, Feb. 12.

Three resolutions with options for reducing or maintaining the size of the board were forwarded for discussion and action Friday by the board’s Executive Committee. The panel offered no recommendation.

Jefferson County currently is divided into 30 supervisory districts for the county board. The number was established in 1981 when the board reduced its headcount from 38 to 30 members.

Options the board members are expected to consider include reducing to 15 members, reducing to 25 members or remaining at 30 members. Each resolution would take effect following the 2022 spring election.

Under state law, outside of federal redistricting requirements after a census, a county can reduce its board size once under its own initiative between regular 10-year redistricting. It also allows electors to reduce their board sizes by petition and the referendum process.

Jefferson is one of 10 counties in the state that have 30 or more supervisors. Marinette County also has 30; Green, Oconto and Sauk counties have 31; Dodge County has 33; Outagamie and Winnebago counties have 36; Dane County has 37; and Marathon County has 38.

Some counties have downsized. In 2007, Walworth County reduced its size from 25 to 11 members. Likewise, Polk County went from 23 to 15, Monroe County dropped from 24 to 16, and Washington County went from 30 to 26 supervisors.

Each of the three options forwarded by the Executive Committee are expected to be voted on separately by the full board.

 review of the county board size was part of the county’s strategic plan adopted in 2017 as a method of consolidation and streamlining county government.

Chairperson Jim Schroeder brought forward a proposal at the board’s Jan. 8 meeting to reduce the size of the board from 30 to 25 and combine the existing committees from 11 to seven.

The county board voted 24-1 at that meeting in favor of directing the Executive Committee to create an ad hoc committee to research the impact of Schroeder’s proposals.

However, on Friday, the Executive Committee voted to recommend to the board to not form an ad hoc committee to review the concept of board size reduction. A related option to form a committee to examine the size and responsibilities of committees was postponed until the board votes on the size-reduction resolutions.

“After what we saw at the board meeting, I do not see that would be a productive exercise,” Schroeder said, referring to the creation of the ad hoc committee.

He recalled one of the comments during the meeting to be that the committee would need to report back to the full board every month because otherwise they would meet behind closed doors fox six months and come back with something they want.

“Of course, that was untrue and insulting,” the board chairman said. “If there is a that level of distrust, I think the only committee that would satisfy some members of the board would be one that is made up of people opposed to any change and that would just be a useless exercise.”

His suggestion was to bring the issue to a conclusion and move on.

Schroeder said that could happen at the committee level, but would prefer the full board to go on record as supporting or opposing a change.

Supervisors Steve Nass and Amy Rinard agreed that it likely would be an exercise in futility to form such a committee and they supported sending all three options to the board.

“I think, oftentimes, this idea of creating a committee is just a ruse to delay a decision,” Nass suggested.

Schroeder agreed.

“That is certainly the tone I heard throughout the county board meeting. It was ‘make this go away please,’” he said. “My position is that it is our responsibility as elected officials to deal with it and have the up or down vote.”

Each of the three options were considered by the Executive Committee Friday.

The chairperson left no doubt as to his positon.

“I would support a board size of 15 members,” Schroeder said. “I believe it would be the best option and I believe it is one my constituents would support.”

He described it as negotiating with himself as far as coming up with the 25-member recommendation at the Jan. 8 meeting.

“I thought that small incremental change would allow for a quality discussion,” Schroeder said. “I don’t see that is what happened, so I’m going to support what I think is the best option.”

The remaining committee members were more supportive of the idea of simply forwarding all the options to the board rather than a particular recommendation.

“Just put it out there and let the chips fall,” Rinard said. “This would certainly gauge the sense of the board. I’m in favor of sending all three of these resolutions to the board and getting a sense of where people are at.”

Nass agreed.

“In the end, it is not a decision we need to make here; it’s a decision the board has to make,” he said. “I don’t have a problem putting all the options out there for a vote.” 

Respecting the suggestion, Schroeder amended his motion and the committee ultimately voted unanimously in favor of forwarding all three options to the board for discussion with no specific recommendation from the committee.

Another supervisor and a Lake Mills area resident addressed the committee during the public comment.

Supervisor Walt Christensen previously spoke out against the board size change and restructuring of the committees at the Jan. 8 board meeting.

He indicated at that time that none of his constituents ever mentioned it to him and added “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

On Friday, he emphasized the importance of diversity.

“What I was referring to more than racial, ethic or gender diversity which are important to try and achieve, was diversity of thought, background or social status as a method of getting better decisions,” Christensen said. “Having the opportunity for more non-conformists and different viewpoints. It is more likely with a 30-member board than fewer.”

He supports maintaining a 30-member board and remains skeptical about combining the committees.

Also addressing the committee was citizen Anita Martin of Lake Mills. She had spoken against the board size reduction at the Jan. 8 meeting.

Martin explained Friday that her understanding was that the consensus from the meeting was that development of an ad hoc committee to consider board size and committee structure.

“It is surprising to see three and half weeks later, three resolutions on board size for discussion and possible action by the Executive Committee,” she said.

From her perspective, Martin believes that a majority of supervisors indicated that they had not heard anything from constituents about board size at the Jan. 8 meeting.

“People are not asking for a reduction in board size as a whole,” she said.

Secondly, Martin said a majority of supervisors did not indicate support for a smaller board.

Lastly, she noted that it was not clearly explained whether there would be a cost savings.

“What I took away was that there was not a demonstrated cost-savings in having a smaller board,” Martin said.

Also Friday, the Executive Committee appointed Jeff Johns to serve as county board supervisor through the unexpired term of Donald Reese, who passed away in late 2018. Reese was the longtime supervisor who represented District 11 in the towns of Aztalan, Concord and Farmington.