County committees favor making department merger permanent
Planning and zoning/land and water conservation together for two years
BY KEVIN BONESKE
Two Oneida County departments that have been merged together on a trial basis for the past two years would be permanently merged under a resolution backed Tuesday by the county’s Labor Relations and Employee Services Committee and Wednesday by the Planning and Development Committee.
County Human resources director Lisa Charbarneau noted the county’s planning and zoning department and the land and water conservation department initially merged in 2015 for a 12-month trial basis before the full county Board last year extended that for another 12 months to allow more time to assess the potential merger due to several vacancies during the initial trial period.
“After a final meeting with (planning and zoning director) Karl Jennrich and his management team, the recommendation is to make that merger permanent,” Charbarneau said. “There are certainly more pros than cons to merging those two departments.
“The cons tend to be related more to the director having to report to two different committees. They had thought that they could have absorbed some of the grant tracking and what not by the administrative team in the planning and zoning department, and that hasn’t been able to occur at this point, but they’re continuing to work towards that.”
A memo from Charbarneau listed what she noted are the pros and cons for a permanent merger, for which some of the pros include: shared staff; land and water more aware of zoning issues and vice versa; the land and water conservationist not having to attend department head meetings and being somewhat insulated from the County Board; and the management team being a nice conduit between both departments and allowing more flexibility with time off by having four people.
Billy Fried, who cast the sole dissenting vote on both committees for making the merger permanent, said it is “inefficient” for Jennrich to have to report to two committees of jurisdiction, the Planning and Development Committee and the Conservation and UW-Extension Education Committee.
“Planning and Development has a lot of challenges with staffing, and we’ve been on a merry-go-round with the shoreland ordinances and some other things,” Fried said. “My concern is committing to something until we’ve really all gotten on the same page…. It certainly makes sense to combine them, at least in my opinion, but…are we asking the director to answer to two committees, what’s the staffing amounts? I think those things should be discussed before we go pass a resolution.”
Jennrich said he is “looking to get the monkey off my back” with a decision on whether to permanently merge the two departments.
“Either we’re merged or we’re not,” he said. “Either we move forward or we don’t.”
Jennrich said he has had discussions about merging the two departments with Conservation and UW-Extension Education Committee chairman Bob Mott, who “seems relatively comfortable with it,” compared to the previous chairman, former longtime supervisor Tom Rudolph, who “wasn’t comfortable with it whatsoever.”
The resolution also will go before the Conservation and UW-Extension Education Committee for its consideration Monday before being forwarded to the full County Board for action at its August 15 meeting.