Tag Archives: Washington County

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

POWTS Fee Opposition

Thanks to an alert county resident who pointed me to this link. On Washington County’s website, you can find 146 pages of letters from county residents regarding the proposed POWTS fee referenced in my column. Interestingly, the email that I sent to my county supervisor is not there. I wonder how many others are missing.

Let’s just say that the people are not amused.

The hearing for this is tomorrow morning at 7:35 if you are able to attend.

No new fees

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

Perhaps taking their cue from the Republicans in the Legislature, the Washington County Board is considering implementing a new fee on Washington County taxpayers to do something that the county has already been doing for nearly 20 years. The public hearing being held by the Washington County Planning and Parks Department is at 7:35 a.m. on Thursday. Since, like many people, I work and cannot attend a public meeting at 7:35 a.m. on a weekday, I will offer some thoughts in this space.

The new fee being considered is to pay for tracking the maintenance of private onsite wastewater treatment systems (POWTS). Much of Washington County is rural and residents do not have access to municipal sewer systems, so they install and maintain a private septic system. There are about 20,312 parcels in the county with a POWTS. The state has mandated since 2000 that counties track and report to make sure that these private systems are properly maintained. Washington County has been complying with this state mandate with the use of general county funds since then. The new annual fee being considered is $11 for the vast majority of POWTS owners.

The POWTS tracking system is fairly rudimentary. Every three years, the county sends a postcard reminder to the POWTS owners to remind them that they need to have their system maintained. The POWTS owner contracts with a private company that inspects the system, completes any necessary maintenance or cleaning, and then notifies the county that it is complete. The POWTS owner bears the cost of all of this.

Philosophically, there is nothing wrong with a fee to fund a government service. The difference between a fee and a tax is that a fee is usually voluntary and charged to the specific person who is receiving the direct benefit of the service. For example, a fee for a marriage license is perfectly reasonable. The couple getting married is receiving the direct benefit of the county service and there is no rational reason that all of the other taxpayers should bear the burden.

In the case of a new POWTS maintenance fee, it is not voluntary and the entire county is receiving the benefit. For the vast majority of POWTS owners, it is not optional. There are not any other waste treatment options available to them, so they must install and maintain a POWTS at their own expense. The purpose of the government tracking the maintenance of them is to help ensure that the water supply for all county residents is not unduly polluted. Given that the fee is not optional for POWTS owners and every county taxpayer is receiving the benefit, the fee being proposed would be more correctly described as a selective tax.

Furthermore, remember that this is a service that the county has been providing for nearly 20 years. As they consider supporting this service with a standalone fee, there has not been any corollary proposal to reduce the county property tax levy or sales tax by a corresponding amount. The fee is just in addition to all of the other taxes that county taxpayers are already paying. As presented, this is not a discussion about whether or not this particular service should be funded with a fee or the general tax. It is about whether the county should charge a fee for something they were already doing and then just use the liberated general tax revenue to spend on something else. It is a straightforward path to more spending.

Finally, one must really question the cost. At $11 per parcel, the proposed fee would raise roughly $230,000 per year. Look back at the third paragraph for how this program works. It is sending a postcard every three years and logging that the work is complete. It is something that could be completed by an intern with a spreadsheet. $230,000 per year?

In the program cost detail shared by the Planning and Parks Department, the annual program cost is actually listed at $227,527.28. Only $2,200 is allocated for printing, copying, and postage. The rest is for wages ($126,370), overtime ($400), benefits ($45,100.60), advertising ($300), office supplies ($600), vehicles ($6,300), conference fees ($1,400), cost allocation for planning ($25,578), and on and on. That is a tremendous amount of overhead and larded-up costs for a very, very simple POWTS maintenance program. I find it difficult to imagine why POWTS owners should be charged an extra fee to shoulder the costs of things like conference fees and advertising.

The proposed POWTS fee looks suspiciously like another money grab by a government to continue to fund bloat and waste. The Washington County Board should categorically reject it and apologize to the taxpayers for ever suggesting it.

No New Fees

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s a taste:

Perhaps taking their cue from the Republicans in the Legislature, the Washington County Board is considering implementing a new fee on Washington County taxpayers to do something that the county has already been doing for nearly 20 years. The public hearing being held by the Washington County Planning and Parks Department is at 7:35 a.m. on Thursday. Since, like many people, I work and cannot attend a public meeting at 7:35 a.m. on a weekday, I will offer some thoughts in this space.

The new fee being considered is to pay for tracking the maintenance of private onsite wastewater treatment systems (POWTS). Much of Washington County is rural and residents do not have access to municipal sewer systems, so they install and maintain a private septic system. There are about 20,312 parcels in the county with a POWTS. The state has mandated since 2000 that counties track and report to make sure that these private systems are properly maintained. Washington County has been complying with this state mandate with the use of general county funds since then. The new annual fee being considered is $11 for the vast majority of POWTS owners.

[…]

As presented, this is not a discussion about whether or not this particular service should be funded with a fee or the general tax. It is about whether the county should charge a fee for something they were already doing and then just use the liberated general tax revenue to spend on something else. It is a straightforward path to more spending.

Finally, one must really question the cost. At $11 per parcel, the proposed fee would raise roughly $230,000 per year. Look back at the third paragraph for how this program works. It is sending a postcard every three years and logging that the work is complete. It is something that could be completed by an intern with a spreadsheet. $230,000 per year?

In the program cost detail shared by the Planning and Parks Department, the annual program cost is actually listed at $227,527.28. Only $2,200 is allocated for printing, copying, and postage. The rest is for wages ($126,370), overtime ($400), benefits ($45,100.60), advertising ($300), office supplies ($600), vehicles ($6,300), conference fees ($1,400), cost allocation for planning ($25,578), and on and on. That is a tremendous amount of overhead and larded-up costs for a very, very simple POWTS maintenance program. I find it difficult to imagine why POWTS owners should be charged an extra fee to shoulder the costs of things like conference fees and advertising.

The proposed POWTS fee looks suspiciously like another money grab by a government to continue to fund bloat and waste. The Washington County Board should categorically reject it and apologize to the taxpayers for ever suggesting it.

Washington County To Hold Hearing on New Tax

From the Washington County Insider.

July 6, 2019 – Washington County, WI – The Washington County Planning and Parks Department will be holding a public hearing on Thursday, July 25, 2019 at 7:35 a.m. regarding the creation of an Annual Special Charge Tax Assessment for Washington County properties served by Private Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (POWTS) for the purposes of tracking and maintenance.

The POWTS Maintenence Program Special Charge report, which can be found here, states:

The number of parcels serviced by POWTS in Washington County continues to change and we continue to
refine the inventory of systems. As of June 13, 2019, staff estimates 20,313 parcels are served by POWTS
throughout the County. Staff is recommending program costs be assessed at $11 per parcel annually served
by POWTS or $11 per system, whichever is greater based on the above cost estimate. Approximately 20,209
parcels (99.5%) would be assessed an $11 fee ($11 x 20,209= $222,299). The remaining roughly 103 parcels
would be assessed between $22-$66 depending on the number of POWTS systems on the property as follows:
 4 parcels at $66 annually
 6 parcels at $55 annually
 4 parcels at $44 annually
 10 parcels at $33 annually
 80 parcels at $22 annually

The public hearing will be held on Thursday, July 25, 2019, at 7:35 a.m. in Room 1014 of the Herbert J Tennies Government Center, 423 E. Washington Street, West Bend.

I should mention that this impacts me since I have a septic system. Here’s the thing… I don’t mind fees. They are a rational way for the government to raise revenue instead of taxes. In general, I think that fees are fine when it is an optional government service. Toll roads, car registration fees, park fees, etc… fine. The use of fees get a bit more dubious when they are mandatory. In that case, the distinction between a fee and a tax ceases to exist. In this case, most people with septic systems do not have access to another choice, so the fee is simply a tax to them.

In this case, two things rub me the wrong way. First, the cost. Here’s how this works… I have to have my septic system serviced and inspected once every three years. The county keeps track of it and sends me a post card reminder when it is due. I pay a private contractor to do the work and then they send notice to the county to say that it’s done. The entire process can be run by an intern with a spreadsheet. Why does it cost over $200k per year? That seems extraordinary. I’d love to hear the reason.

The second thing that rubs me wrong is just that it is a change to support more spending. This system has been in place for nearly twenty years and now the county wants to shift it off the general tax and into a fee. If it had been a fee since the beginning, then fine. But since the general taxpayers have been paying for it all along, it means that the county wants to shift this cost to the septic system owners and presumably free up they general tax revenue for some other spending. I don’t see them offering to lower the county property tax or sales tax y $200k+, so it is just implementing a new fee on one hand to support more spending from the other hand.

$11 per year isn’t going to break anyone, but it is just another nagging fee that makes the county a little more expensive and a little more annoying to live in – especially for rural citizens.

Washington County Will Not Have an Executive

That’s a shame. I suspect that parochial interests prevailed here.

WEST BEND — Elected leaders here on Wednesday shot down a proposed government reform effort that would have replaced an appointed administrator with an executive leader who would have been elected from across Washington County.

But the decision was close.

Thirteen of the county’s 26 board members voted against a measure they said felt rushed and ill-timed — and that they worried would have had monumental impacts on the county’s government.

The board’s remaining 13 members supported a move they’d argued would have enabled Washington County to absorb expected population and commercial growth.

But the measure required a majority, and the 13-to-13 tie defeated the resolution.

Washington County Board Chairman Advocates for County Executive

Don Kriefall takes on the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” argument. Here’s a part:

We are in a good situation, both fiscally and operationally. The fact of the matter is that we are in the middle of an economic boom, and our geographic location makes us part of metro Milwaukee and like it or not, the economic development has already begun.

There is good reason that people have decided to live in Washington County, the No. 1 county in Wisconsin for quality of life. We want to preserve the values and unique characteristics that make Washington County so special. We want to be in a position to manage growth and thereby maintain and continue to improve the quality of life for the citizens of Washington County. In order to effectively manage the growth, all stakeholders, countywide, need to be brought to the table. An appropriate plan of action, beyond our current smart growth plans, must be developed and agreed upon by all the municipalities in Washington County in order for each community to benefit from those opportunities. One voice, one leader with the mandate of the citizens, should lead Washington County into the bright future that awaits us.

We need a leader that can leverage our industry and technical schools to train the workers needed to provide the goods and services necessary for our citizens and beyond. We need a leader that can create partnerships outside of Washington County to recruit the workers necessary to fill employment opportunities currently open and those that will be created in the future. We need a leader that can work with developers to construct housing for that workforce that is appropriate to the communities in which they will be built. We need a leader that can work with other counties to explore avenues of cooperation in shared services, equipment and infrastructure.

A system with 26 diverse supervisors cannot negotiate as one voice. A system with a part-time county chairperson is inadequate to lead as the CEO of Washington County. Yes, our current system “ain’t broke,” but it is insufficient to accomplish the ever evolving tasks necessary to manage growth now and into the future. That one voice needs to be a county executive that is accountable to the electorate and the time to elect that leader is now.

Washington County needs an executive

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

The Washington County Board of Supervisors is considering changing the structure of county government to create a county executive instead of the current county administrator structure. The County Board should move swiftly to enact this change in time for the voters of Washington County to elect their first county executive next April.

Wisconsin allows for three forms of county government that have progressively more powerful executive functions. The first form has a very weak administrative coordinator. In this form of government, the county board appoints a coordinator who has very limited power, but is responsible for coordinating and executing the orders from the board. The coordinator does not appoint department heads and does not have any independent budget authority. Thirty three Wisconsin counties use this structure.

The second form has a stronger executive function held by county administrator. The county board still appoints the county administrator, but the administrator has the authority to prepare and present a budget, appoint and remove department heads with confirmation from the county board, and coordinate departments. This is the form of government that Washington County uses along with 28 other counties.

The third form of county government empowers an elected county executive with responsibility for the executive functions of government. In this form, all of the voters in the county elect a single executive. As such, the county executive cannot be removed by the county board. Only the governor can remove a county executive for cause. The county executive has all of the powers and responsibilities of a county administrator, but also has the power to veto county board actions and remove department heads without board confirmation. Eleven, mostly more urban, Wisconsin counties have a county executive including neighboring Fond du Lac, Waukesha, and Milwaukee counties.

The main benefit for Washington County of switching to a county executive form of government is that is gives the electors a single person who represents the entire county. That person would be able to set a vision and direction for the county, as well as be held responsible for the overall performance of county government.

In the current form of Washington County’s government, there are 26 supervisors (still way too many) who each represent a few thousand citizens. They elect a county chairperson, other board officers, and appoint the county administrator. Each county board supervisor is elected to represent the interests of his or her constituents — as it should be. Nobody on the board represents the entire county.

Similarly, if the citizens are dissatisfied with the direction of county government, it is extremely difficult to make their will known across a slate of 26 board supervisors. To enact a change in direction, at least 14 new people must run and win across the county to build a new majority on the County Board. And if the County Board passes something outrageous, there is not any veto check on their action like there is at the state and federal levels of government.

By having a county executive, Washington County would have a single person who would represent the entire county’s interests with businesses, state government, and other interests. The citizens of the county would also have a single person to take their grievances to when a county department fails them. It would make county government more nimble and more responsive to the citizens and external interests.

The down side of having a county executive is that the legislative part of county government, the Board of Supervisors, would have to cede some of their current power over executive functions. This is a small price to pay for the benefits a county executive would bring to the county.

Our nation has a long history of having three separate, distinct branches of government that balance and check each other. Washington County has reached a level of population, complexity, and maturity that make this the right time to create an independent executive branch.

Washington County needs an executive

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. In it, I argue that Washington County needs to move to a County Executive instead of a County Administrator. Here’s a part:

By having a county executive, Washington County would have a single person who would represent the entire county’s interests with businesses, state government, and other interests. The citizens of the county would also have a single person to take their grievances to when a county department fails them. It would make county government more nimble and more responsive to the citizens and external interests.

The down side of having a county executive is that the legislative part of county government, the Board of Supervisors, would have to cede some of their current power over executive functions. This is a small price to pay for the benefits a county executive would bring to the county.

Our nation has a long history of having three separate, distinct branches of government that balance and check each other. Washington County has reached a level of population, complexity, and maturity that make this the right time to create an independent executive branch.

 

What the Heck is a “Negative Savings”?

Heh

WEST BEND — After 12 months of collecting data from employees and their families regarding the onsite health clinic, officials have received information they hope to use to mitigate rising health care costs for their workforce.

Sara Stiefvater, the client operations manager, along with Regional Medical Director Dennis Schultz, both from Quad Medical, presented results of the operations for the onsite health clinic Monday to members of the Common Council.

[…]

She also provided information regarding the clinic’s profitability when combined with Washington County since the clinic is shared between their employees.

In the aggregate, officials experienced a negative savings for the first year by slightly more than $22,000. The total estimated savings was about $332,000 while the expenses, which includes staff as well as the payment to the vendor for operating the clinic, was about $355,000.

That’s the oddest way to say that… “experienced a negative savings” of $22,000. In the real world, we would day that it “costs” $22,000. This is significant because the whole point of the county and city providing a clinic is to bring down the overall costs. Otherwise, it’s just an additional benefit to government employees.

The impact the clinic will have for the city and county, at least in terms of savings and cost, is significant because that is the primary reason that administrators and leaders established one.

The clinic opened during the summer, marking the completion of a project that required about two years inthe hopes of slowing the increasing rate associated with health care costs.

“Over the course of three years, the projection is about $1 million (saved),” Human Resources Director Todd Scott said during a July 2017 interview. “It is really going to be based on participation. How many people use the clinic and what type of services. That is where the savings is going to come from.”

If the goal is to save $1 million in three years, then the clinic needs to save $511,000 each of the next two years. I don’t see that happening.

That being said, I would consider the clinic a success if it saves some decent amount each year. For example, if it saves the taxpayers $50,000 per year and provides a better healthcare alternative to employees, then it’s a net benefit worth keeping. If it is just going to be another perk for employees that costs taxpayers even more, then it fails to meet its stated justification and should be shut down.

Let’s give it another year and see how it goes.

Conflict in Washington County

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

Before he became the father of Texas, Stephen Fuller Austin served for a time in the territorial legislature of Missouri. He was a savvy, energetic legislator whose personal interests often aligned with the interests of his home district of Washington County.

For example, Austin aggressively pushed for a tariff to protect lead mining, the primary business in his district and his family’s business. He also advocated fiercely to get the government to grant a more favorable charter to the Bank of Missouri, of which his father was a founding director. Both efforts were intended for the benefit of his district and Missouri with the convenient side effect of directly benefitting Austin and his family.

The blurring of public and personal interests by elected officials is as old as representative government itself. This blur came to the fore in Wisconsin’s Washington County and has resulted in county leadership essentially forcing a supervisor to resign.

When the Washington County Board supervisor for District 11 moved away a few months ago, the County Board appointed a replacement, William Blanchard, to serve out the rest of the term. On Oct. 3, Blanchard submitted his resignation “under duress” due to an insurmountable conflict of interest.

At issue is the fact that Blanchard’s daughter receives significant care from various county departments. Upon investigation, county officials determined that because so many departments were involved, the only way to avoid the potential conflict of interest was for the county to outsource his daughter’s care to another county, at significant expense, or for Blanchard to resign.

The Washington County Ethics Board issued an opinion that although there was no “wrongdoing or ethical violation … there is a conflict of interest,” and “Blanchard should resign.” To that end, County Board Chairman Don Kriefall, County Administrator Josh Schoemann and County Attorney Brad Stern told Blanchard that he needed to resign.

This raises all kinds of questions. What constitutes a conflict of interest? According to the county’s code of ethics, a conflict of interest results from an official’s “action or failure to act in the discharge of his or her official duties which could reasonably be expected to produce or assist in producing a substantial economic or personal benefit.”

In this case, the potential conflict of interest exists if, and only if, Blanchard uses his office or votes on issues related to services that his daughter receives. The simple solution, which Blanchard offered to do, is for him to recuse himself from such votes. This is common and routine for elected officials. The Washington County Board, like every elected board, is riddled with conflicts. Supervisors and their families work for the county, use county services, serve on municipal governments, work in businesses that do work with the county, etc. It is impossible to have an elected county government full of citizens who do not actually live in the county.

For Blanchard, county officials insisted that they would need to outsource services for his daughter to avoid a potential conflict. Why? Again, the simple and cheap solution is for Blanchard to recuse himself if there is a conflict of interest. Outsourcing services to another county just to avoid a potential conflict of interest with one supervisor is an expensive overreaction. It is not the county’s duty to avoid the conflict. It is the supervisor’s. If the supervisor commits an ethical offense related to a conflict of interest, then the County Board can take action.

What is concerning about this is that county officials constructed an unreasonable standard to force an elected official out of office. Blanchard was faced with either resigning or being responsible for forcing the taxpayers to pay thousands of dollars of additional costs to care for his daughter. He was forced into this decision even though the simple act of recusing himself from relevant votes would have adequately sufficed to avoid a potential breach of ethics.

The downside of Blanchard’s potential conflict of interest is that he may have to skip a lot of votes. This would bring into question whether or not he is adequately representing the citizens of his district. But that decision is not for the county administrator, county attorney or County Board chairman to decide. That decision is up to the voters of District 11.

In a representative government, elected officials only have one boss — the people. Barring criminal corruption in office, which would justify removal from office, it is up to the people to decide who they want to represent them. If Blanchard recuses himself from a lot of votes, it is up to the people to decide whether that is good enough or not. And frankly, given that Washington County has a ridiculously large board with 26 supervisors, and it is exceedingly rare for any vote to come down to a single supervisor’s vote, it is unlikely that Blanchard’s vote would ever result in a “substantial economic or personal benefit.”

Washington County’s leadership undermined the tenets of representative government when they forced Blanchard to resign. It wasn’t their call. It should have been left for the voters to decide.

Conflict in Washington County

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print today! Go pick up a copy. Here’s a taste.

Before he became the father of Texas, Stephen Fuller Austin served for a time in the territorial legislature of Missouri. He was a savvy, energetic legislator whose personal interests often aligned with the interests of his home district of Washington County.

For example, Austin aggressively pushed for a tariff to protect lead mining, the primary business in his district and his family’s business. He also advocated fiercely to get the government to grant a more favorable charter to the Bank of Missouri, of which his father was a founding director. Both efforts were intended for the benefit of his district and Missouri with the convenient side effect of directly benefiting Austin and his family.

The blurring of public and personal interests by elected officials is as old as representative government itself. This blur came to the fore in Wisconsin’s Washington County and has resulted in county leadership essentially forcing a supervisor to resign.

Blanchard Explains

Even more at the Washington County Insider. If this is the case, it’s an egregious abuse of power to force a board member out. Why? The conflict of interest issue doesn’t make any sense. There must be more to the story.

I am writing to you today to notify you that I will be, under duress, submitting a letter of resignation tomorrow as District 11 County Board Supervisor.  I will be resigning because my mentally ill daughter is receiving services through Washington County Social Services (tentatively through January 2019).  Due to my place on the County Board, her services would have to be outsourced to another county and would cause Washington County to incur additional costs of between $4,000 & $20,000.  I would have been willing to forego my salary to cover the additional expenses but wasn’t given that opportunity.

I would like to highlight that there are currently no ethics breaches or perceptions of breaches.  The County Attorney has even written that he does not allege that I “am in breach of the Code of Ethics… or that you are not an ethical person or a man of integrity”.

Under duress, I was forced to request a determination from the Ethics Board which found “not based on any wrongdoing or ethical violation” that there was a conflict of interest and recommended that I resign from the County Board.

I would like to state for the record that this sets a dangerous precedent as any County Board Supervisor could have a conflict of interest and be forced to resign if any member of his or her family, including extended family receives any service from the county, including but not limited to:

– Long-term care assessment

– Short-term care coordination

– Access to benefits specialists

– Dementia care-giver support

– Senior Dining and home delivered meals

– Child support

– Victim/Witness support services

– AODA

– Veterans Services

I am truly dismayed and disheartened at the treatment I have received throughout this process.  Rather than look for, or accept, alternative solutions, I have been coerced, threatened and intimidated into this course of action.

I have enjoyed getting to meet all of you and wish you the best in your future endeavors.

Thank you,

William Blanchard

County Supervisor Fires Back with Ethics Complaint

More from former Supervisor Blanchard at the Washington County Insider

Having submitted my resignation, I will address this as a private citizen of Washington County. I have stated before that I am willing to discuss the issue openly and honestly with anyone interested. In a nutshell, I was Kavanaugh’d. I have not done anything wrong, nor have I, unlike Kavanaugh, been accused of doing anything wrong or unethical. If you would like to discuss this further, please feel free to reach out to me.

I would like to notify you that I will be submitting ethics complaints against Chairman Kriefall and Administrator Schoemann. On a phone conversation they suggested (by suggested I mean pushed, forced, threatened) that I resign and then lie to my constituents and tell them that I have family issues and don’t have time to fulfill my County Board requirements. I replied by stating that the Air Force has three core values: Integrity First, Service before Self, and Excellence in all we do. While those may be a punchline to some, those are the values by which I try to live my life. I will be open and honest with my constituents. At that point they tried to backpedal but the unethical suggestion had already knowingly been made.

And from the County Administrator

I have received multiple communications from several Supervisors about the email you received from Supervisor Blanchard today announcing his intent to resign as a County Board Supervisor. As with all Board communication I highly advise you to refrain from any discussion amongst yourselves regarding this matter, including any ‘Reply’ or ‘Reply All’ to the original email from Supervisor Blanchard. I only give this advice as the matter may relate to the Open Meetings Law, as it may or may not be discussed by the County Board and as it has been considered by the Ethics Committee.

Please be advised this matter is of a sensitive nature, and thus requires the County’s strictest diligence. While Supervisor Blanchard is certainly allowed to share, as he did, any and all detail he feels appropriate, the County must follow all legal protocols within the ethics realm, as well as within the realm of treating clients and navigating through the court system with clients (if there were to be any)


Something stinks to high heaven here. I have spoken with Blanchard and reached out to County Administrator Shoemann, who has not yet responded. More to come…

County Supervisor Resigns After being Harassed

Curious.

I was thrilled when I learned that the County Board Supervisor position for District 11 was open and even more thrilled when I was appointed to that position in August.

I am devastated that I am now forced, under duress, to resign from my position as Washington County Board Supervisor for District 11.  Over the past few weeks, I have been subjected to harassing calls and threats to resign or else… Why am I being forced to resign?

NOT because I have done anything wrong or committed any ethics violation but, rather, because my mentally ill daughter is receiving services from Washington County.

Therefore, with a heavy heart, I submit this letter as my resignation from my position as Washington County Board Supervisor for District 11.

 

William Blanchard

Strong Turnout in Washington County

Way to go, Washington County!

turnout

76% of the voters in this county are Republicans. That tells us that the fears of apathy in the GOP base may be a little overstated.

Washington County Chair Responds to Sheriff

Now Don Kriefall, Washington County Board Chair, responds to Sheriff Schmidt’s column from the other day. This is an important discussion for the future of Washington County. Go read the whole thing on the Washington County Insider.

One of the initiatives discussed with Sheriff Schmidt was to offer to Washington County partners the ability to provide dispatch services for them at no cost. Funds saved by each municipality could then be earmarked to maintain or repair roads. As many municipalities had passed resolutions requesting a portion of the County sales tax, primarily due to the rising cost of roads, this would save those municipalities more than the amount of sales tax that they had requested.

Another initiative was to explore sharing a jail and circuit court with one or more county, Ozaukee and/or Waukesha. After the closing of the Lincoln Hills juvenile facility, one of the solutions offered by Governor Walker was to rehouse juvenile offenders in county jails contiguous to Milwaukee County. The initiative to share a jail/circuit court facility could provide several things;

  • The ability to create a court dedicated to prosecuting drug offenses,
  • The ability to share judges and allow caseloads to be more efficiently handled,
  • The ability to allocate District Attorneys to prosecute cases more efficiently.
  • The ability to repurpose each County Jail/Circuit Court and make them juvenile holding facilities and courts.

Another long term initiative would be to explore creating a metro sheriffs’ department. As this has been done effectively in other jurisdictions through the US (the Village of Richfield currently contracts with the Sheriffs’ office to provide police services) combining all police departments into a metro unit could provide the following;

  • The ability to eliminate the need for mutual aid pacts for major events,
  • All would fall under one umbrella for liability insurance and worker’s comp,
  • The ability to better allocate resources in a more timely fashion at major events,
  • No issues with who is in charge of any scene,
  • All local police officers would be hired by the Sheriff’s Department and assigned to their local communities.

As stated, these are some out-of-the-box solutions that could create efficiencies without negatively impacting services, and in most cases actually provide better services. I agree with Sheriff Schmidt that agencies that are too small struggle to meet the needs of the citizens they serve.

The population of Washington County is 135,000, 30,000 more than Green Bay, so I would challenge the assertion that it would be too big to be personal and responsive to the community.

Where I totally disagree is his perception that this is a political struggle. The constitutional authority delegated to a County Sheriff does not require a “fight” or an adversarial relationship with the County Board. It requires that we work together collaboratively to better serve the citizens of Washington County. We will continue to explore ways to provide the best possible services that positively impact the quality of life for the citizens of Washington County.