County administrator position and downsizing county board rejected
Oneida County supervisors were quick to nix further study in hiring a county administrator after learning it could cost up to $250,000 a year to fund the position.
At their regular monthly board meeting held last Tuesday morning, Supervisor Dave Hintz presented findings of a committee he headed to study whether the county could be run more efficiently if a county administrator was hired. This committee was also asked to study the impacts of reducing the size of the board from 21 to nine to supervisors.
“We researched what a county administrator does and how that could affect this county,” said Hintz. “Hiring one would virtually change every process the county does.”
The committee put together to look into the position and reduction of the board included County Board Supervisors, Tom Kelly, Alex Young, Ted Cushing and Hintz who chaired the committee in addition to Margie Sorenson, finance director, Brian Desmond, corporate counsel and Lisa Charbarneau, director of human resources.
Hintz gave a presentation at the meeting outlining the duties of an administrator which are actually defined by Wisconsin statute. According to the statute county administrators have the power to; appoint department heads; remove department heads at pleasure; supervise and review department head work performances; prepare and present the county budget; appoint their own administrative secretary and assistants; appoint members of all boards and commissions and present a yearly “state of the county” to the board.
“An administrator would impact every mid to high level process within the county,” said Hintz.
Hintz also outlined the advantages of hiring an administrator which included; the county would be run like a business; elected officials would be allowed to focus on policies and strategies; the county would receive the administrative expertise of a professional; increased efficiency; responsiveness to citizens and elected officials and accountability of policies and employees through performance reviews and planning.
He also outlined the disadvantages mentioning that the current system is working and there is no monopoly in the operation of the county. Then Hintz addressed the issue of cutting the board to nine members.
“It would be hard to reduce the size of the county board without hiring an administrator,” he said. “In addition, those nine board members would have to attend lots more committee meetings and that would be hard.”
He noted the advantages of a nine member board as a more efficiently run government entity with faster decision making, increased competition for board seats and “in theory higher quality board members.”
One hurdle that could be difficult to overcome in reducing the size of the board would be doing it before the next census which is in 2016. Determining population numbers is important because that data is used to outline districts within the county. Other disadvantages mentioned included geographic issues and personal resistance to the idea; less background diversity in board members; not a large dollar savings and that boards that are of the maximum legal size spend less.
“We also looked into salaried board members like Milwaukee has,” said Hintz. “They get paid $50,090 a year plus staff expenses and I don’t think the county can afford that.”
Immediately after the presentation was finished, Supervisor Billy Fried made a motion to “kill” further study of hiring an administrator and reducing the board. Supervisor Ted Cushing agreed.
“I would urge anyone here to come to a finance meeting,” Cushing said. “It is very difficult to come up with $100,000 for one year let alone $250,000 every year if we hire an administrator. Also we have such diversity in backgrounds on this board so we can make intelligent decisions. I know a lot of businesses that have a CEO and are belly up. I’ve talked to people in my district and all of them said leave it alone.”
Another issue that was discussed at length was a resolution requesting the county clerk to place an advisory referendum question on November ballots; “Shall the next state legislature accept available federal funds for Badger Care to ensure that thousands of Wisconsin citizens have access to quality and affordable health coverage?”
“These were federal funds that were turned down by the governor,” said one audience member. “We’re demanding justice and equality for everybody. We’re talking about dignity of life here.”
Some board members feared that once the federal money ran out for the program, the state would have to foot the bill.
“This needs to go to the public so we can let county residents determine if we should get these funds,” said Supervisor Bob Mott.
One supervisor made an amendment to change the wording of the question which passed. “The question for the ballot is too political,” said Tom Rudolph. “It should just state,’ Shall the next state legislature accept available federal funds for Badger Care.’ Also I believe this isn’t a simple and clear cut issue.”
Jack Sorensen agreed.
“I have extremely mixed feelings about this,” he said. “I question the timing of this resolution on a partisan basis. I’m more than willing to put this on our website and in a spring election ballot but there is just enough tinge of partisanship here and it bothers me.”
Linda Conlon director of the Health Department told the board those funds are needed within the county.
“There are about 684 people in Oneida County now eligible for Badger Care,” she said. “Lots of counties across the state are voting on this during the November election.”
The motion passed however supervisors Mitchell Ives, Greg Oettinger, Sorensen, Lance Krolczyk, Alex Young and Tom Kelly voted no.
In other business:
• The board listened to a presentation by Tom Lowe who is a consultant with developing public transportation for possibly a transit system in this area in the future.
• Approved a new video system for Circuit Court Branch 1 and 2 at a cost of $79,500.