Tag Archives: Washington County

Washington County Reaffirms Oath

We’ll see how firm they are when the rubber hits the road, but it is good to see them on the right side of the Constitution.

WEST BEND — The Washington County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday unanimously approved 2020 Resolution 17 — Washington County Advocates the Constitutional Rights of its Citizens.

The resolution reaffirms the oath county supervisors took upon swearing in to uphold rights of Washington County residents under the U.S. Constitution.

According to the resolution, “We the People” affirms the U.S. government exists to serve the nation’s people and “We the People hold dear and sacred and challenge all those who would seek to infringe upon the rights of the people.”

[…]

“We want to make sure the oath you took on day one, that’s something you’re committed to despite what other government bodies try to do,” said Kelling. ”We are going to hold true to the Constitution. We are going to fight for it on every level at every opportunity. This is who we are. This is one of the most conservative counties in Wisconsin. Who would lead if not us?”

Washington County To Consider Becoming Sanctuary City

A few months ago, I would have yawned at something like this as just some showmanship and pandering. In our new normal, as they say, affirming our rights has become paramount. Let’s get this done!

WEST BEND — Washington County Board District 6 Supervisor and Vice Chair Denis Kelling has introduced 2020 Resolution 17 — Washington County Advocates the Constitutional Rights of Citizens on July 4. Supervisors will vote on the resolution during Wednesday’s County Board meeting.

The resolution would oppose any mandates which may interfere with an individual’s constitutional rights, including requiring residents to wear masks, enforce closures and implement fines. The resolution, which was

approved by the Executive Committee on June 17, reaffirms the oath each supervisor takes upon swearing in to the board to support the national and state constitutions.

“The government doesn’t have the right to make those types of mandates,” Kelling said. While the government can issue emergency orders, he does not agree that some measures must be mandated.

Earlier this year, Waukesha County supervisors proposed a resolution that would make it a sanctuary county for the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in response to state proposals to strengthen background checks for purchasing guns. Supervisors felt these proposals violated the Second Amendment rights of citizens.

Washington County supervisors wanted to create a resolution to reaffirm the whole U.S. Constitution.

“I can’t recall any time in history where the government had a right to demand that you wear something,” said Kelling.

Washington County Considers Mandatory Furlough Program

Nobody wishes ill on our neighbors who work for government, but these kinds of things will become more necessary as the people’s ability to pay is severely retarded by Governor Evers.

April 28, 2020 – Washington Co., WI – Details are coming in slowly however it appears Washington County is looking to implement a Mandatory Furlough Program for some of its employees. The five days of furlough are tied to an upcoming fiscal impact from COVID-19 pandemic. Details regarding a projected $3 million to $5 million drop in revenue are below.

Other details according to the Public Affairs Coordinator Ethan Hollenberger:

Employees must pick five furlough days between May 7 and Dec 31. They can take one per calendar week. Paid holidays (Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, etc) are eligible as days to pick to be on furlough.  Employees will work with their supervisor to pick the days that best work for them.

Long term, I don’t think this will be enough, unfortunately, but it’s a step in a necessary direction.

On another note, this stuck out to me from another story about a local government dealing with lesser revenue:

The city’s golf courses, even after reopening this week, are expected to lose $165,200 in revenue. Gagin said he does not see a viable option for the golf courses remaining open without help from the city’s general fund.

I have complained for years that the county should not be in the business of operating a golf course. The push back I got – even from fellow conservatives – was that the golf course actually made money. True, I said, but the taxpayers are on the hook if it doesn’t. Well, here we go… and now it’s too late to sell the golf course. The buyers are drying up with the economy. There’s a good chance that the taxpayer of Washington County will be asked to cover costs at the Washington County Golf Course, abandon it, or sell it for pennies on the dollar. Let’s check back in on the budget in a few months.

 

Hartford to Reopen Despite Governor’s Unconstitutional Orders

Huzzah for the city leaders in Hartford and the Washington County Sheriff.

HARTFORD — In what Mayor Tim Michalak said could be the biggest decision ever made by the Common Council, aldermen on Tuesday night unanimously agreed to have city staff create a plan to reopen city buildings and services no later than Monday and try to gradually bring them back to normal levels.

“We want the local businesses to also know the police department will not be overtly enforcing the state ‘stay at home’ order,” Michalak said. “Our department will be enforcing criminal and traffic laws.”

City officials said local businesses could reopen after that date “at their own risk and after careful consideration and consultation with their insurance agent and with customers.” The decision comes despite Gov. Tony Evers’ recent announcement to extend the Safer at Home order and other state-imposed rules to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

[…]

“It’s time we do something. We can’t let this go on another month without opening up.”

Michalak said the city is not telling businesses to open up, but city officials are not going to kick in their door if they decide to do it and Washington County Sheriff Martin Schulteis has backed the city up in this decision.

“When it comes to the different communities he said he is going to follow ‘home rule,’ which means if they have their own Police Department he will allow that department to enforce the rules and or take action,” Michalak said. ‘We are saying we’re not going to be the boot that’s on their neck.’

The mayor said he has received numerous phone calls and emails from business owners who said they are faced with possibly closing their doors for good if the state-imposed orders are allowed to continue.

“We’re going to open the library and we’re going to open the public buildings,” Michalak said. “If we don’t do something soon to help our local

businesses we could see another depression. We need to bring freedom back to Hartford.”

Looking at The Current Washington County Administrator Contract

Here is a guest post from former Washington County Sheriff, Dale Schmidt. Here is a copy County Administrator Current Contract

As the candidates for Washington County Executive, Mr. Gitter and Mr. Schoemann, campaign using information they want you to know, voters should always seek out their own information about the candidates.  As Schoemann has been employed by county government since 2014 it may be worth reviewing the positions he has held and his current employment contract.

When he was first hired, the position was known as County Manager.   That position was part of the County pay chart at that time and probably had the same benefits as other full time employees.

By June of 2014 though, the County Board changed the position to County Administrator, still on the pay plan.  Starting in June of 2015 the Executive Committee held closed session meetings under the heading “County Administrator Contract” every month, (for 7 months) which culminated in the Board approving an employment contract for Schoemann at its December 8th meeting.

That contract was a public document made available as part of the Board’s packet of information. The contract was for two years, renewable in one year increments.  Schoemann negotiated and the Board approved wages of $126,555 in 2016, and $132,883 in 2017.  The total wages and benefits were $166,988 in 2016 and $174,223 in 2017.  (At that meeting, the Board also approved a 1% cost of living raise for all non-represented employees.  It’s unknown if 1% was then added onto Schoemann’s negotiated wages).  Schoemann also was to accrue Paid-Time-Off at the rate of a 9 year employee and the contract included performance evaluations and a retention/incentive clause.

In September of 2017, that contract was amended by the Executive Committee in a closed session meeting lasting 16 minutes.  The contract item was on the public agenda as closed session, but the proposed contract was not publicly available.  To the best of my knowledge, the contract has not been published publicly to this day.  It also was never approved by the whole County Board as the Administrator is now only required to answer to the Executive Committee.  The members who approved this contract were Supervisors Kriefall, Michalak McCune, Bulawa, Deiss, Bassill, and past Chairman Gundrum.  The contract has been released to the public through a formal record request.  It should be noted that since the County Board changed its form of government to Executive, this contract is done the day the new Executive term begins in April.

Significant bullet points of the current contract.  (Words in italics are copied from the contract):

-This is a five year contract covering years 2018 through 2022.

Administrator’s gross salary shall be set as follows: For calendar year 2018: $138,198; For calendar year 2019: $143,726; For calendar year 2020: $149,475; For calendar year 2021: $153,960; For calendar year 2022: $158,578.

Retention Incentive.  Administrator shall receive an incentive (“incentive”) accrual and payment in accordance with the following procedures and policies:  1. Accrual of Retention Incentive, Beginning in 2018 for each year Administrator is employed by County from January 1 to December 31 under this Agreement, he shall accrue a retention incentive payment, The incentive accrual amount shall be as set forth in Article IV,B.2.  2. Payment.  In January of 2018 Administrator shall receive a retention incentive payment in the amount of $10,000, On January 1 each year thereafter, Administrator shall receive a retention incentive payment in the amount accrued three (3) years prior which shall be five percent (5%) of the then gross salary budgeted and approved by the County Board.  Said payment shall be deemed income and subject to applicable withholdings in accordance with the County’s standard payroll practices, The retention incentive payment shall be made as directed by Administrator in one lump sum or in 26 installments.  (Schoemann received the $10,000 on January 1, 2018 and then on January 1, 2019 it appears he received 5% of his gross salary for 2016 which is $6327.75 and on January 1 of 2020, 5% of his salary for 2017 which is $6644.15.)

-Deferred Compensation.  Beginning January 1, 2018 and continuing for the term of this Agreement, County shall make a contribution to a deferred compensation account approved by Administrator.  The amount of the contribution for 2018 shall be $6,000’ The amount of the contribution shall increase by $3,000 per year every year thereafter during the term of this Agreement.  (Deferred Compensation is a program to invest money for retirement.  Washington County employees must use their own money to invest in this program.  This contract specifies taxpayer funds are invested for the Administrator).

Performance Bonus. Administrator shall be eligible for a performance bonus in the amount of $10,000 each year upon a satisfactory annual performance evaluation as determined by the Executive Committee.   (The Executive Committee conducted a performance evaluation on the Administrator during an October 9, 2019 closed session meeting.  The minutes reflect that Schoemann was rated a 5.  I believe the County scale is 1 to 5.)

Other income.  Beginning January 1, 2018 and every year thereafter during the term of this Agreement, per Administrator’s direction, County shall make a payment in the amount of $5,000 to a health savings account established by Administrator.   (The County puts $728 per year in individual employee HSA’s, and the employee can add their own money).

Administrator, as of January, 2018, accrues paid-time-off (“PTO”) hours consistent with fourteen (14) years of service in the PTO table for Full Time non-represented employees with administrative leave and for the duration of this agreement will earn years of service credit consistent with the PTO table.   (2018 was the Administrator’s 5th year of county employment.  Also, unused PTO can be cashed out at time of separation).

Additionally there are two lengthy sections on Removal/Resignation/Separation and Severance.  Together, they indicate the ways Schoemann could be separated from the position and what the payout would be for each.  One specific method is Change in Form of Government.  It spells out that if the County, changes to a County Executive form of government, the Severance clause is followed.  That clause essentially states the County agrees to pay Administrator a one-time lump sum cash payment equal to six (6) months of his current annual salary, and, extend paid health insurance coverage to Administrator and existing beneficiaries for six (6) months following removal.

A few thoughts… it is a shame that this is coming out less than a week before the election, but it needs to be known. This is one of the consequences of the decimation of local journalism with the rise of the internet. There was a time when it would have been someone’s job to watch local government. When a new contract like this was signed, they would have gotten a copy and reported it if anything was newsworthy. Now we are mostly relying on local citizens and a couple of small media outlets to cover the dozen or so governments just in Washington County.

The contract itself is a pretty sweetheart deal. Guaranteed raises, performance bonuses, expenses, and a separation payout clause? Sign me up! While County Administrator is an important position, I struggle to understand why the taxpayers needed to extend such a lucrative contract to attract good talent to the position.

The most egregious part of the whole deal, however, is the process. It was secretive, non-competitive, and just as you would expect the “good ol’ boy” system to work. For example, if they were going to so dramatically increase the compensation package for the role, then why not post the job to see if we had the best candidate we could get for that money? Or, if the County Manager was threatening to leave without the contract, why not let him quit and see if the county could get an equal or better resource for the money? As it is, we took the same guy and gave him a pretty substantial contract for the same work. It flies in the face of the cries of “frugal” and “broke” we get from the County leadership.

If you look at the folks who negotiated and signed this contract, they are many of the same people who have been writing letters of recommendation for Shoemann in his bid to be an elected County Executive. One wonders if they just want to keep the bodies buried when we have an independent, elected County Executive.

Election for Washington County Executive

The voters of Washington County will be choosing their first ever County Executive next week. The County Board voted last year to change the county’s form of government from a County Administrator, in which the executive function is performed by an administrator hired by the county board, to a County Executive, in which the executive function is performed by an elected County Executive who represents a separate, co-equal branch of government.

The voters are blessed with two good choices. Josh Shoemann is the current County Administrator. Adam Gitter is the Economic Development Manager for the City of West Bend. Both men are conservative. Both men are veterans. Both men are career government bureaucrats seeking their first elected office. Both are promising to hold the line on taxes and spending.

On the issues, they differ on two primary points. First, Gitter wants to rescind fees for county parks. A couple of years ago, the county implemented a fee structure for people to enter county parks. In the past, the parks did not have an entrance fee. Gitter’s argument is that the people pay taxes for the parks and should not have to pay a fee to go in them. Shoemann, who advocated for and supports the fees, says that using fees for some things helps keep taxes down. Both are right.

This is an issue on which I can go either way. Generally speaking, I don’t mind if there is a fee for things that not everyone uses. The people who use it should bear the brunt of the costs. On the other hand, we have seen where governments will implement fees and still keep raising taxes. What’s the point of fees then? Furthermore, there is a philosophical justification for the notion that we pay taxes for our county to maintain parks and that should include free and open access. Again, I’m somewhat indifferent on the issue It is an esoteric discussion that has little bearing on my life. But this is the issue that has garnered the most energy in this campaign.

The second issue on which they disagree is on the county sales tax.Washington County implemented a sales tax many years ago on an “emergency” basis to pay for some specific capital needs like a new radio system for the Sheriff. Once those things were paid off, the county kept the sales tax and now uses it for whatever they want. I have long advocated that the county should repeal the sales tax. The reason it was implemented is no longer valid and they should repeal it. If, after it is repealed, the county wants to implement a new sales tax to fund county government, then let’s have that debate. As it is, the county sales tax is the greatest bait and switch ever foisted on the people of Washington County.

On this issue, Gitter calls the sales tax a “slush fund” and has advocated repealing or reforming it. Gitter is right. Shoemann argues that the sales tax revenue has become too integral to the county’s finances and repealing it would blow a $4 million hole in the budget. Yes, it would. That has been part of the insipid nature of the sales tax revenue in that once the County Board got it, they wouldn’t let it go. There is no reason that we could not work toward the goal repealing the sales tax over time. At least Gitter wants to try and will push in the right direction.

Primarily because of the sales tax, I voted for Adam Gitter. There is a lesser reason that irks me a little too.

Shoemann has seen a wave of support from the current insiders in the county. The current county board chair, former chair, several county board members, and a couple of local politicians have come out in support of Shoemann. This makes sense and is a credit to Shoemann. In his role as County Administrator, he has worked with these people over years and earned their trust. That’s great. But there is what we used to call a “good ol’ boys” network in Washington County. In our modern nomenclature, we call it the swamp. That’s what this is. One of the reasons I advocated for a County Executive form of government was so that the county could have an elected, independent executive branch. If the executive is that tight with the board and part of the club, then what’s the point? I’m not saying that we should have open warfare between the branches of government, but the friction created by skepticism and independence is part of the balance of powers that makes for good government.

Finally on a side note, it is unfortunate that these local races have been drowned out by the presidential primaries and coronavirus. One of the fascinating things about this race that the county’s local lefty contingent has all lined up behind Gitter. As a quirk of politics, I find myself on the same side. It is curious because Gitter is an avowed conservative who has been successful in his role at the City of West Bend with conservative leadership. In reading the lefties’ writings, it looks like it comes down to two issues. First, the liberals hate park fees. As a matter of philosophy, they oppose park fees and believe that the parks should be free to everyone. Gitter agrees with that philosophy. Second, the lefties just hate Shoemann and don’t really know Gitter. It is a testament to Shoemann’s conservatism that he is so reviled by the local lefty establishment. I hope that Gitter can earn their enmity should he be elected.

All said, the voters can’t make a bad choice for county executive, but because of a couple of issues, I voted for Adam Gitter.

Former Sheriff Schmidt Weighs In On Washington County Governance

Sheriff Schmidt has some great points in this guest editorial at the Washington County Insider. Read the whole thing at WCI.

March 26, 2020 – Washington Co., WI – Recently Washington County Board Chairman Kriefall sent letters to the editor in support of the Schoemann Campaign for County Executive.  He utilized the COVID-19 pandemic as an example of why Schoemann should be elected.

My first thought was wondering why Kriefall is writing about the election instead of showing the community some leadership on the COVID-19 issue.  During a state of emergency, the Board Chair alone generally has the authority of the full County Board.  As the highest elected official in County government, shouldn’t he be talking to us?  What has he done in regards to the pandemic?  What is he considering?  How does he view the situation and does he support Governor Evers orders?

Is he concerned about the closing of businesses and restricting of our personal freedoms?  We don’t know, because the only public statement Chairman Kriefall has made recently is that we should vote for his buddy Schoemann.

I for one would like to see the elected County Board Chairman publicly acknowledge that Governor Evers orders are very restricting to Washington County residents and businesses.  Kriefall should communicate to us what he has he done on our behalf to ensure the orders are necessary.  He should explain what will need to change for the orders to be lifted or relaxed.

Something else is very concerning.  On March 13th Chairman Kriefall issued a proclamation declaring a state of emergency and the County Board affirmed that proclamation on March 19.

Broad powers and responsibilities were given to Administrator Schoemann and Chairman Kriefall.  Schoemann and Kriefall were given full authority to run County Government and the elected Board is out of the picture.  Schoemann is running a campaign for County Executive and Kriefall is his No. 1 fan.  When the only public comment Chairman Kriefall has made the past two weeks is to support Schoemann’s campaign, I question the basis being used to make decisions about the COVID-19 response.  Is it for our best interests or political interest?

How do we know?  I think we should be very attentive, and there may even be a state law that addresses the potential for conflicts of interest and abuse of power.

I’ll be honest… with everything else going on, I didn’t even know that Washington County had consolidated power in the hands of two people – one of which is running for election and the other who hired him in the first place. Beyond the concerns about abandoning representative government for the time being, the whole things has that swampy smell.

Washington County Tax Rate

While appreciated, this is not the whole story.

By Melanie Boyung

Special to Conley Media

WASHINGTON COUNTY — The county tax rate is set to drop to its lowest levels since 1917.

In October, the Washington County Executive Committee gave unanimous approval to the 2020 budget proposal for Washington County. That committee’s approval moves the budget forward to the full County Board, which is expected to take it up this month.

The 2020 recommended budget has a $2.298 tax rate; the rate for 2019 was $2.393, 9.48 cents higher than the current proposal, according to county budget documents. That $2.298 tax rate is the lowest in more than a hundred years — County Administrator Josh Schoemann wrote in the budget book that it is the lowest since World War I.

While the tax rate is comparable to a hundred years ago, that does not mean tax bills will be the same. The tax rate is the amount paid by a property owner per $1,000 of property value, and property valuation has risen a great deal in the past century. Owners of a $225,000 home would therefore owe $517.10

Do you know what else the taxpayers of Washington County didn’t have to pay? A county sales tax. So while the county has been able to decrease the tax rate on the back of increasing property values, they have been able to keep spending more by extracting more tax revenue from the same taxpayers through the sales tax.

Adam Gitter To Run for Washington County Executive

We have a race

Washington County, WI (October 31, 2019):

On Tuesday, April 7, 2020 the citizens of Washington County, WI will have an option on the ballot for the new position of County Executive. Adam Gitter has stepped forward with the intention of being the first County Executive elected in Washington County, WI. While exploring this opportunity Gitter has found a groundswell of support in the county leading up to his announcement to run for the County Executive position.

“Community and collaboration are what this campaign is rooted in.” Stated Gitter, “Being raised in Washington County has given me a strong sense of home. Partnering that with values I gained through my service in the Army has led me to pursue a career serving my community. Washington County is an excellent place to live and raise a family. We are in a position to empower municipalities by utilizing the sales tax the county collects on behalf of all municipalities and sharing this for more localized control of the dollars. This, among other key issues, is why I am running for the Washington County Executive position.”

Adam Gitter graduated from Kewaskum High School before earning an Associate’s Degree from local UW-Washington County, now going by the name of UWM-Washington County. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice and a Master’s of Public Administration from UW-Oshkosh. Gitter served in the U.S. Army with one tour in Afghanistan during 2008 and 2009. He currently serves as the Economic Development Manager for the City of West Bend.

“In addition to the sales tax, it is important that a fee to enter county parks be removed.” Stated Gitter, “A lot of feedback has come from around the county on this topic and ultimately a barrier for entry to parks is not what the public wants.”

Adam Gitter lives with his wife Lindsay, son Duncan and six month old puppy, Bender, in the City of West Bend. He is actively dedicated to serving the local community through involvement in many boards and commissions. Board membership on the county level includes Economic Development Washington County and Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Washington County Board to Vote on Pay for County Executive

Wow. Tip o’ the hat to the Washington County Insider. There is no reason on earth that the Washington County Executive should make more than Milwaukee’s CE, Waukesha’s CE, or the governor.

A draft of the resolution shows the proposed salary starting at $140,000 and then increasing annually to $142,800, $145,656 and in the fourth year $148,569.

A record check shows the prospective pay for the newly elected Washington County Executive would be more than any elected county executive in the state of Wisconsin.

Dane County –  $134,218

Milwaukee County – $129,000

Waukesha County – $108,826

Fond du Lac County – $108,100

Winnebago County – $115,800

Brown County – $98,046

The Governor of Wisconsin – $146,786

One note, when supervisors voted Sept. 11, 2019 in favor of an elected county executive, the supervisors knowingly violated the terms of the contract signed with Washington County Administrator Josh Schoemann. A clause in his contract indicates the county will have to pay Schoemann $130,000 because of a violation of the original terms of agreement.

Washington County Board to Vote on POWTS Fee

Just say no.

WEST BEND — While it may just be procedural, the Washington County Board this week will look once more at $11 special assessments for properties with private on-site wastewater treatment systems.

Private treatment systems, POWTS, are well and septic systems used by properties that are not hooked up to municipal water and sewer systems. According to county information, there are an estimated 20,313 properties in Washington County that have a POWTS.

Throughout the summer this year, the county considered implementing the $11 special assessment to help balance the budget. After several months of consideration, County Administrator Joshua Schoemann recommended the county not implement the fee, after high amounts of public feedback against the assessment.

“I will be recommending that the County Board vote no … Simply put, an $11 fee is not worth tearing apart Washington County,” Schoemann said in August.

The County Board will be looking at the matter once more on Wednesday, during its regular meeting at 6 p.m.

Schoemann Runs for Washington County Executive

As expected

WEST BEND — Washington County Administrator Joshua Schoemann on Tuesday became the first person to file papers for the newly-created position of county executive, in effect asking voters to elect him to a job he has held for six years.

The County Board voted last month to eliminate the administrator form of government and moved to an elected one. It was the second vote the County Board took on the matter — the first one failed in June.

Washington County to have an elected executive

Here is my column that ran in the Washington County Daily News yesterday.

After much debate and a second vote by the County Board, Washington County will have a county executive. The structural change in government offers the citizens of Washington County an opportunity to reset the direction of the county for years to come.

The vote by the County Board last week to change the county’s form of government from a county administrator to a county executive came after the same board rejected the idea in June. Washington County has long had a form of government where the executive function is delegated to a hired administrator by the County Board. The county administrator is unelected and responsible to the County Board that hired him or her.

There is nothing inherently wrong with a county administrator form of government. In it, the elected County Board exercises both the legislative and executive functions of government with the executive functions being completed by a hired employee. This form of government ensures that the executive function will be completed by a competent executive, but all of the power is retained by the County Board.

The choice by the County Board to enact a county executive form of government represents a distinct ceding of power from the legislative branch of government to the executive branch of government. An elected county executive has to power to hire and fire department heads and veto County Board actions. Perhaps most important of all, an elected county executive is responsible to the voters, not the County Board. The County Board will no longer be able to fire a recalcitrant executive. In our county’s new form of government, the executive branch will truly be an independent, coequal branch of government.

The two things that a county executive form of government provides are accountability and direction. In our current county administrator form of government, accountability is diffused and it is difficult for citizens to hold their county government responsible. For example, if a county citizen is upset with a pockmarked county road, or the fee for county parks, or county transit, what can he do?

He can complain to the relevant county officials, but they are all ultimately responsible to the County Board. A citizen can complain to his or her County Board supervisor, but no single supervisor can enact change. It would take a citizen, or a coalition of citizens, complaining and getting 14 individual County Board supervisors to support making a change. If those supervisors will not act, it would take finding 14 people of like mind to run for office and win in order to change the makeup of the County Board. Ultimately, the county administrator form of government insulates the county bureaucracy from accountability.

As we see in other counties that already have an elected county executive who is responsible to the voters, having a single executive allows the citizens to hold that executive accountable if he underperforms or otherwise misbehaves. The county executive is not wholly responsible for policy, but he or she is responsible for the fair and quality execution of that policy. That kind of accountability has a ripple effect through any large organization.

The second thing that an elected county executive provides is the opportunity to establish a vision for the county. Washington County is in transition. While still largely rural with important rural interests, the county is becoming increasingly urban with important commercial and residential interests. What will the Washington County of 2025, 2030, or 2050 look like? With an interstate, land to build, airports, and a fantastic workforce, will Washington County aggressively compete for the economic growth being spurred in the rest of southeast Wisconsin? Or will we prefer to leverage the county’s idyllic natural beauty to attract commuters and nature enthusiasts? Or something in between? What is the right mix and balance?

These are the things that a county executive will help define and give the voters the opportunity to choose the direction they want. And, more importantly, if a county executive takes the county down a path that the voters do not want, it only takes a single election to change direction.

As candidates for county executive step forward to ask for our votes over the next few months, I welcome an array of competing visions for the future of our county so that we, the voters, may debate and decide the future direction of Washington County.

Washington County to have an elected executive

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. This week it’s actually about Washington County. Pick up a copy!

After much debate and a second vote by the County Board, Washington County will have a county executive. The structural change in government offers the citizens of Washington County an opportunity to reset the direction of the county for years to come.

[…]

The second thing that an elected county executive provides is the opportunity to establish a vision for the county. Washington County is in transition. While still largely rural with important rural interests, the county is becoming increasingly urban with important commercial and residential interests. What will the Washington County of 2025, 2030, or 2050 look like? With an interstate, land to build, airports, and a fantastic workforce, will Washington County aggressively compete for the economic growth being spurred in the rest of southeast Wisconsin? Or will we prefer to leverage the county’s idyllic natural beauty to attract commuters and nature enthusiasts? Or something in between? What is the right mix and balance?

These are the things that a county executive will help define and give the voters the opportunity to choose the direction they want. And, more importantly, if a county executive takes the county down a path that the voters do not want, it only takes a single election to change direction.

As candidates for county executive step forward to ask for our votes over the next few months, I welcome an array of competing visions for the future of our county so that we, the voters, may debate and decide the future direction of Washington County.

Washington County to Have an Executive

This is a reversal from the vote in June.

September 11, 2019 – Washington Co., WI – With two Washington County Supervisors absent, (Roger Kist and Brian Gallitz) the County Board voted for a second time on a resolution to change the form of government to an elected county executive, rather than an appointed county administrator.
[…]
This means in April 2020 there will be a race for the seat for Washington County Executive. So far county administrator Joshua Schoemann has not indicated if he will run for the post. He said he’s going to take a couple days and then make a statement on his decision.

I support this move. As I wrote in my column a few months ago, Washington County has reached a size and complexity that it makes sense to exist in the American model of three co-equal branches of government. It wouldn’t be the end of the world if we left it alone, but I’d prefer to have an elected County Executive. Now what…

There will be a scramble for people to run… maybe. We’ve never had this elected position before so nobody has really been looking at it. It’s a full time gig that requires some executive leadership skills. That doesn’t appeal to everyone. The obvious lead candidate is Josh Schoemann, the current County Administrator. Certainly nobody could argue against his knowledge of County Government. At the same time, he could be viewed as just part of the county swamp. Why bother having an elected County Executive if you are just going to put the same person back at the helm? Of course, all that will depend on if he runs and who runs against him. It’s going to be an interesting few months to see who throws their hat into the ring.

A couple more side points…

With this move, the county is violating Schoemann’s contract and will have to pay out about $130k to him. That’s a temporary expense and no reason to hold back from changing our form of government if we think that’s the right way to go, but it is worth noting. It would have been nice if they could have timed the change with the expiration of his contract.

Also, this is exactly the kind of attitude that frustrates me:

Supervisor Jenkins – “I brought it back and then voted against it a second time because it still deserved time to do the research and get feedback but for me I feel our electorate voting has pretty limited knowledge on county government. To me now laying this task on the people in the county to have this very important vote, honestly it scares me a bit. So now that it’s past there’s going to have to be a lot of education on what sort of role (county executive) this is. I also feel the difference in position is we will now be tasking the operations of the county to someone who wins a popularity contest. There’s a role for that in democracy but I hope we find a balance.

So… we shouldn’t have elected government because the people are too ignorant? That’s the same argument that’s been used against representative government by tyrants for millennia. As the saying goes, “democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms.”

UPDATE: Chris Jenkins sent me a note clarifying his statement:

I view the county exec as the day to day administrator who should come with some sort of knowledge and background to run this immense operation. That is why I was worried about electing this kind of position. I am obviously all for elected positions, as I have been in multiple roles myself. I just hope we now surround our county exec with the staff he/she needs to successfully run the operations of the County.

POWTS Meeting Tomorrow Night

FYI

Washington County has rescheduled the Fiscal Health Informational Meeting for Tuesday, August 27th at 6:00 p.m. at the Washington County Fair Park Pavilion Exhibit Hall. An update regarding the status of the proposed POWTS Special Assessment will be provided in addition to a discussion about the County’s fiscal health and budget. Any assistance in distributing this information is greatly appreciated.

You can find my column about this issue here.

POWTS Fee Dead?

Maybe.

County Administrator Joshua Schoemann said he is going to make a recommendation at the August 22 meeting.

“At that meeting I will recommend to that committee to vote ‘No’ on implementing the POWTS fee,” he said.

During the Sept. 11 County Board meeting, Schoemann said he will again recommend the County Board vote ‘No’ on the POWTS fee.

“We’ve recognized the situation and the outcry and citizens clearly have no interest in doing the fee or the tax; call it what you want it’s a tax. So I had a budget workshop and I don’t think this board has the votes,” he said.

On the other hand, if the board does have the votes to pass the fee Schoemann said come October the County Board would have to pass the budget with the POWTS fee and that needs 18 votes. “I don’t think there’s 18 votes on the County Board to pass the budget with the fee in it,” he said. “So the board is properly responding to the constituents, I’m trying to be responsive to the constituents; they don’t want the fee and we’re not going to implement the fee.”

It’s not about the $11

Here’s my column that ran in the Washington County Daily News on Tuesday.

Last week this column covered a proposal by the Washington County Planning and Parks Department to impost a new annual fee on the 20,312 private onsite wastewater treatment systems in the county. The passionate opposition to the proposed $11 fee reminds us that the fires that heated the tea party movement and continue to burn for President Trump are still very hot in Washington County.

For what was supposed to be just another sleepy public meeting at 7:35 on a Thursday morning, well over on hundred agitated citizens showed up to have their say. The main room overflowed into two other rooms. At one point, the meeting was paused for 15 minutes while they removed the chairs to be in compliance with the fire code.

By the time the meeting was over, hours later, over sixty people had spoken. Many more people had signed up to speak, but had to leave for reason or another as the hours dragged on. When the speakers had finished, 146 pages of letters and emails that were sent to public officials regarding the proposed POWTS fee were read. The people were almost universally in opposition to the proposed fee, but the commentary exposed the many fissures in the public’s trust of government.

Several of the speakers pointed out that the meeting was being held at an incredibly inconvenient time for anyone who works. One speaker pointed out that everyone in the room was of retirement age — to the jovial objection of a younger woman swimming in the sea of grey. The speakers and letters continued to emphasize that a government that really cares about what the people think makes an effort to schedule public hearings for a time when people can actually attend.

Some of the opposition centered on the fact that the proposed fee is simply a tax by another name and that government fees inevitably and unrelentingly go up. The wise citizens of Washington County are not to be bamboozled by arbitrary word games. They know that money being taken out of their pockets by their government is still money they no longer have, whether referred to as a tax or a fee by government officials.

Much of the outrage had to do with how the money from the proposed fee was to be spent. One woman pointed out that the first nine items in the list of expenses were for salaries, benefits, overtime, retirement, etc. for county employees. These items comprise more than 75% of the entire costs associated with the POWTS program. It is an enormous cost for such a rudimentary government function. Further larded into the cost are expenses for membership dues, advertising, travel, lodging, vehicles, and all of the other expenses that seem so unnecessary and wasteful.

One speaker highlighted the fact that Washington County still insists on having 26 county supervisors – each of which is paid a salary, per diem, and expenses. Meanwhile, the county continues to run Washington County Fair Park and a golf course.

Another speaker pointed out that POWTS owners already pay a county sales tax on all of the construction and maintenance of their POWTS that far exceeds the money allocated to the POWTS program. County citizens have not forgotten that the county sales tax was originally imposed as a temporary necessity to pay for a handful of critical infrastructure projects, but now it is a permanent county fixture.

While the written and spoken opposition to the proposed POWTS fee was wide-ranging and fierce, there was a common theme: The people are sick and tired of government that doesn’t listen to them, doesn’t care about them, and doesn’t respect them. Politicians and government bureaucrats too often operate in a world detached from the realities of the people they are supposed to serve. In this case, a proposal for a silly $11 fee/tax revealed just how large that detachment is.

It’s not about the $11

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. I was marveling at a truly fascinating public meeting regarding the proposed POWTS fee. I’m hearing whispers that the County Board is just going to ram it through. They do so at their own peril. Here’s a sample:

Last week this column covered a proposal by the Washington County Planning and Parks Department to impost a new annual fee on the 20,312 private onsite wastewater treatment systems in the county. The passionate opposition to the proposed $11 fee reminds us that the fires that heated the tea party movement and continue to burn for President Trump are still very hot in Washington County.

For what was supposed to be just another sleepy public meeting at 7:35 on a Thursday morning, well over on hundred agitated citizens showed up to have their say. The main room overflowed into two other rooms. At one point, the meeting was paused for 15 minutes while they removed the chairs to be in compliance with the fire code.

By the time the meeting was over, hours later, over sixty people had spoken. Many more people had signed up to speak, but had to leave for reason or another as the hours dragged on. When the speakers had finished, 146 pages of letters and emails that were sent to public officials regarding the proposed POWTS fee were read. The people were almost universally in opposition to the proposed fee, but the commentary exposed the many fissures in the public’s trust of government.

[…]

While the written and spoken opposition to the proposed POWTS fee was wide-ranging and fierce, there was a common theme: The people are sick and tired of government that doesn’t listen to them, doesn’t care about them, and doesn’t respect them. Politicians and government bureaucrats too often operate in a world detached from the realities of the people they are supposed to serve. In this case, a proposal for a silly $11 fee/tax revealed just how large that detachment is.

 

Live Stream of Public Hearing for POWTS

The Washington County Insider is live streaming the Washington County Parks Department hearing about the proposed new POWTS fee (see column yesterday). They are currently on a break because there are so many people there that they broke the fire code! Good job, neighbors.

Anyway, so far the comments have been very eloquent and truly express the frustration that people have with governments that just keep jacking up costs without adding any value.

Anyway, this is a fantastic example of representative government in action. Tune in.

Restart of broadcast