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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Vote NO On Walworth Board Dismantlement

At first I thought I would be overstepping my bounds commenting on the Walworth County downsizing referendum simply because I live in Rock County. But after realizing how the outcome can impact other boards throughout Wisconsin I felt it is my civic duty to offer an outsiders perspective about this referendum.

The Janesville Gazette posed several questions to active and former members of the Walworth County Board regarding the downsizing referendum and posted their answers in Wednesday's paper. Those in favor of downsizing offered reasons that, in my opinion, were the best reasons to keep the board at the current level. I couldn’t help but notice a consistent trend in their answers.
JG Excerpt:
For smaller: "County government in Wisconsin needs to be more effective and more cost effective. With 25 people on the board, there are too many departments and too many committees and it makes county government too complex and inefficient."-Bret Strong, chairman, Walworth County Citizens for Responsible Government

Why don’t you just say that someone can’t handle it? If there are too many departments and too many committees, how will downsizing the board help? Spreading 11 supervisors over too many departments will be more difficult than spreading them among 25. Sounds like you have a different problem here and it’s not the size of the board.

JG Excerpt:
For smaller: "It's going to make for a more accountable board. It will be easier to keep an 11-member board informed. I think it'll make the board more accountable and it'll even make staff more accountable with fewer people to answer to. It's going to make staff jobs easier."-Ann Lohrmann, county board chairwoman

Promoting to downsize representation on the basis of easier workloads for the staff sounds like someone is in a little over their head – don’t ya’ think? This sounds like the size of the staff is the problem, not the board. It also seems like somebody else would rather have fewer people to answer to.

JG Excerpt:
For smaller: "Right now, the board is in a state of flux. There's no direction. There's no guidance … It's like a shopping spree. Everyone is going off in their own direction. It needs some serious changes. I'm not saying 11 is the number, but you could do it with 11."-Bill Norem, former county board chairman
This reason is key. Complaints of no direction or guidance has nothing to do with the size of the county board. This reason given is actually the best reason why the problem appears to be with leadership. The chairperson is responsible for the guidance – of the board, but only after the citizenry informs the board on what direction they would like it to take. This is a leadership problem, plain and simple.
JG Excerpt:
For smaller: When you have 25 people, they can hide behind each other when it comes to voting. I think (the issue) is accountability. When you have 11 people (on the board), you have more citizens who will know who those 11 people are."-Betty Felten, former county board supervisor
This reason about hiding and accountability seems just plain dumb. Putting more power into the hands of fewer people is a step into the direction opposite of democracy.

JG Excerpt:
For smaller: "The way I see our board, our board is laden with ineffective, incompetent people and they've proved that by the last budget. They will prove that again with 12- to 15-percent increases for the next few years if they build the (new Lakeland) school."-Bret Strong, chairman, Walworth County Citizens for Responsible Government
But….but… what if 11 members vote for the same budget increases the 25 members did? What have you accomplished? Just because people don’t see things my way doesn’t make them incompetent, I’ve got other words for them, but incompetent isn’t one of them.
JG Excerpt:
For smaller: "If citizens are OK with not looking at our programs and how we are doing business, then that's what they will have: the status quo."-Ann Lohrmann, county board chairwoman
What makes anyone think citizens will pay more attention if there are fewer board members? People will be nearly powerless if they demand less representation. Status quo is a condition that only grows worse with less representation, attempting to change it by downsizing is a short-term fix for the sake of change. If you’re really worried about the status quo, The most effective way to change it is done by changing leadership.
JG Excerpt:
For smaller: More of the same. More confusion and more bad decisions."-Bill Norem, former county board chairman
Again, confusion starts right at the top along with guidance and direction. If you can’t organize and coordinate with 25 people you'll probably do only slightly better with eleven.
JG Excerpt:
For smaller: "Nobody can guarantee that whatever board is elected is going to be responsible to taxpayers. From my perspective, with our current 25-member board, I don't think it could be any worse."-Ann Lohrmann, county board chairwoman
Hey - why have 25 when we can be just as irresponsible with eleven?!
JG Excerpt:
For smaller: "With 25, it's easy to hide your vote and hide your incompetence or lack of due diligence. It's hard to hide it when there are only 11 of you."-Bill Norem, former county board chairman
Another one of those hiding reasons. With eleven board members, that’s all they’ll be doing when a frustrated mob of Walworth taxpayers with lots of rope start looking for a tree.
JG Excerpt:
For smaller: "I believe with 11 we will have better control. They will be way more visible. They're going to have to answer to any bad deeds that they do."-Bret Strong, chairman, Walworth County Citizens for Responsible Government
This comparison that a larger board has less control doesn’t make sense. Fewer people on the board will take power away from the people and place it into fewer hands. On the road to dictatorship.
JG Excerpt:
For smaller: "Actually, I think it is a good time to do it. In 2010, maybe we should add two or three or bring it to 15, or maybe make it smaller. We'll have the opportunity to fine tune the board at that time."-Ann Lohrmann, county board chairwoman
Fine tune it? Why? Two years after downsizing you may want to enlarge it or make it smaller - again? After you purge out the disagreeables? Here’s an idea. Why not just scrap the entire board and crown Ann Lohrmann Countess of Walworth, this way she can pick and choose her subjects. Walworth Vote NO
I believe that a request to change the size of a county board should only come from the residents of the county or a census, and not from members of the board. The drive to downsize the Walworth County board appears to be for the interests of the few people who initiated the referendum and not for the county citizens. More people will be kept uninformed and in the dark.

Things just aren’t going someones way when the only way they can make the changes they feel are necessary is to purge membership. It is my opinion the chairperson has lost the connection with the people and has taken on the pompous view that only she (and a few others) knows what’s better for the community. If Walworth downsizes, the repercussions will be felt in Rock County and supply more ammunition to the power players tearing away at our county board.

Did anyone notice today how the Gazette Editorial staff, self appointed experts at peer comparisons, left out comparing Walworth county to Rock.
JG Editorial Excerpt:
With 11 supervisors, each would represent about 9,000 residents. That's fewer than the number represented by each supervisor in neighboring Racine County and far fewer than in Waukesha and Milwaukee counties.

I would guess they’re saving that comparison for after the election, particularly if Walworth votes “yes” to downsize.

Rock county citizens have already been fed a load of propaganda to change our board for the very same reasons. Apparently some one didn’t get their way here either. I encourage my Walworth neighbors to vote NO on this referendum. Remember: Strength in numbers.

Read related: Who's stealing our land.


Ron said...

This is part of a state wide drive to dismantle the traditionally large Wisconsin County Boards that was opened up with Gregg Underheim's law last year that permitted downsizing once between censuses.

The reasons given for downsizing are always the same, and they always work - every county that has put the question to the voters has wound up shrinking the county board.

The question that needs to be asked is who benefits from a smaller county board? County Boards control very large budgets, and people want that money.

When you have a large county board, it is very difficult to get special interest and pet projects rammed through, because there are several dozen people asking questions. One of our former supervisors put it clearly: the more eyes on the money the better off the county is.

When you have only a dozen or so county board supervisors, it is easier to control the votes of the board because it is easier to influence 5 or 6 supervisors for a majority than it is 13 or 20. It also makes it harder for Joe or Jane Citizen to get elected because each supervisor is representing a district large enough to require actual money to campaign.

Shrinking the county board is stripping away citizen controlled government and is an attack on the last pure and working form of government we have in this state. It should be opposed at every turn.

Fond du Lac county got shrunk. Waushara county got shrunk. Winnebago County was temporarily saved when the board voted to cut themselves by two from 38 to 36, but lawsuits are still pending from the CUTTERS.

Keep your eye on your county, and prepare to see your board shrunk and your treasury doled out to special interests and the powerful.

Lou Kaye said...

Thank you for your insight. This is another good reason why local majorities need to assemble and create a living political machine.

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