"Why Become a County Board Supervisor" Panel held November 16th

Three County Supervisors brought county government to life at Minocqua Public Library on Thursday evening November 16 at a public event sponsored by the League of Women Voters of the Northwoods. Patricia ‘Pat’ Voermans  from Lincoln County, Bob Mott from Oneida County, and Erv Teichmiller from Vilas County prompted an attendee to comment afterward,  “Who would have ever thought learning about county government could be so interesting” while another added “and entertaining at the same time.”

All three panelists love their public service but  agreed county boards need more gender and age diversity.   Pat, one of five women on a 22 person Lincoln County Board, appeared to consider herself lucky since Vilas County has only three women out of a 21 person board and Oneida County only two women out of  a 21 person board.    All admitted that they were surprised at how much they ended up enjoying the campaign door-knocking and talking with the amazingly diverse people, dwellings, and income levels in their districts.   On the other hand, the other surprise was one of shared dismay over not receiving the expected phone calls from constituents and assuming  the citizenry would show up at meetings, neither of which, has happened. 

Reasons for why they ran in the first place brought laughter when Erv said that he had repeatedly told his wife that he always wanted to run for county board and ten years ago she finally replied, “Oh, just do what you have to do!”   and  after  being involved with people and his community with 33 years of teaching and coaching,  Bob said  he  discovered  that he could only “golf, hunt, and fish so much.”   When people came to her two years ago asking her to run for office, Pat said her life “was pretty blessed" and she felt it was time “to pay back her community where she grew up.” 

Bob and Erv both expressed disappointment over the fact that some board members “sit on the board and say nothing.”  Pat admitted that as the newcomer on her board,  she did feel intimadated but because of her  long career as a nurse in public health and prisons “taking care of people who need help”, she knew she had to overcome that intimidation and now  enjoys and appreciates  the “collaborative effort of a county board and the interaction with  excellent county employees.”

Each panelists explained how  committee membership is where the real work  gets done  or “the nuts and bolts”  and “ breadth of what happens in their county,”  adding that  committee meetings allowed them to really get to know other board members and  the county staff who are often part of those meetings.    All were emphatic about how essential it was to study the packet of meeting materials before each meeting.  That preparation leads to asking the many questions needed to flesh out the issue or situation, often in the form of a resolution, in order to make an educated decision when the vote comes up on the myriad of services counties are mandated to offer. 

The need for broadband expansion and the constant need for good roads were discussed but by far and large, the biggest challenge that all three supervisors discussed at length from one angle or another was how does their county pay for these s services that the  state legislators mandate  “ they “must  provide but often without a nice pocket of money” or  “how to fix the hole in the budget with levy caps in place”   or  “how can  we as a county  keep providing  mandated services at the same level year after year without an appropriation of at least some money to do that?”  An aside of “while those same legislators don’t  put a levy cap on themselves”  brought both chuckles, nods scowls.

The need for broadband expansion and the constant need to keep roads in good condition were  discussed but the human and fiscal strain that the opioid public health crisis has put on the health and social service obligation of all counties was the most pressing challenge.   When asked,  the Oneida County sheriff told Bob that that 80% of its law enforcement work is involved with the drug crisis.  All concurred that for the past 12-14 years there has been no additional money from the state to counties except for “a  grant  here and there.”   Both Lincoln and Oneida signed onto the lawsuit against the drug companies who provided the drugs so that if any money is obtained it will go to the counties not the state as did the tobacco money.

The Out-of-Home Placement costs for children suffering the consequences of their parents’ drug involvement  are escalating rapidly with costs from $400 per day to as high as $1200 per day at Winnebago or Mendota.   Erv said that after yet another presentation on the opioid crisis to the Board and the 11thresolution,  he  said that “ Is it not time for us to find $100,000 from the General Fund  to be used for matching grants to local boards and groups who work with prevention and intervention?”    Pat said that Lincoln County has had some success after hiring  an additional social worker to work one-on-one with troubled families for prevention  and  Bob added that Oneida County’s collaborative effort  across  the Health Planning Committee, Social Services and Law Enforcement  is  successful but  “solutions are difficult.”

All three  asked more than once for citizens to become involved, to let your supervisors know how you feel, to come to the meetings and  speak up.  Bob interjected that one doesn’t have to be good at public speaking because there are probably 50 other people in the community who have the same feeling.  “If you have something to say, come and say it. It is impactful.”   Both Pat and Bob were visibly shocked that Vilas County does not allow for Public Comment at their meetings.

The evening concluded with the Supervisors asking the audience a question” How many of you are considering a run for county board?”   A nearby table held  the forms required to file candidacy, which can be found at the Wisconsin Elections Commission website or your County Clerk.   Filed candidates can circulate nomination papers starting December 1 and return them to their County Clerk no later than January 2, 2018.   The Spring Primary Election is February 20th and the Spring Election is April 3, 2018.  If people plan to vote absentee in either or both elections, they can also find that application on line at the Wisconsin Elections Commission or see their own municipal clerk. 

 Written by Kay Hoff, Voter Service Task Force member

Article originally appeared in the Lakeland Times, November 28, 2017