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Now, Walworth County Board may need more members

August 11, 2010 | 07:38 AM
On April 3, 2007, Walworth County residents voted 8,061-6,956 to reduce the size of the board from 25 members to 11.

More than three years later, at least one county supervisor is not sure that change is working out for the best.

Supervisor Jerry Grant has submitted a letter to the board requesting that once the census numbers are in, an increase in the size should be considered. Grant stated that from his experience, the workload for 11 members is too much. He has suggested the possibility of increasing the size to 15 members.

That appears to be a reasonable request and one the County Board should take under advisement when the time is right.

In 2007, when the referendum was proposed and just before the election, supervisors seemed split on the downsizing plan. We'll likely find out soon enough what the current supervisors think of the board as it is now.

But, there are undisputed facts regarding the 11-member board.

County Board supervisors serve on 12 committees. With just 11 supervisors, they each are serving on several five-person committees. County Board Chairwoman Nancy Russell, a resident of Lake Geneva, serves on three committees, including being the chair for two of the most important — finance and public works. Grant, Whitewater, is listed among the members of seven of the 12 committees. Randy Hawkins, who resides in Bloomfield Township, also serves on seven committees.

Compare that to the city of Lake Geneva, which has eight aldermen and one mayor. There are five committees which only aldermen serve on.

So, by looking at those circumstances and comparisons, it seems as if 15 or 17 would be just the right number of people to serve on the County Board.

Before the 2007 referendum vote to reduce the size of the County Board, there were several concerns expressed, including the likelihood of the workload doubling. It appears as if this is the reality. Don't forget that as the population in Walworth County grows, fewer supervisors are representing more people. Supervisors also are representing diverse interests in their districts.

For example, Russell serves much of Lake Geneva. But, she also represents people in the towns of Bloomfield, Linn and Lyons. Every supervisor represents at least two municipalities and three represent parts of six different municipalities, including towns, villages and cities. Three separate supervisors represent different parts of the city of Lake Geneva.

Does it makes sense that someone who represents the towns of LaFayette, Lyons or Spring Prairie also represent a few wards in the city of Lake Geneva? Those are very diverse areas to have the same representation. To be fair, the problem of diverse areas to represent has long been a problem on the County Board. With fewer supervisors, the problem just appears more extreme.

At the time of the 2007 referendum, I believed the proposal was too extreme. I still believe 25 is too many, but 11 is not enough.

In the past, with 25 members, there was little election competition for the supervisor seats and the committees were too watered down as elected officials were paid too much to attend a couple meetings each month. But, the 2007 referendum spun the problem with too many meetings in the other direction. Remember, around 2000, the board was downsized from 35 to 25 with the new 25-member board taking office in 2002.

The only solution to the current issue appears to be a meeting in the middle. If 25 is too many and 11 is too few, maybe 17 is the optimum number. As voters and taxpayers, we want to continue to have our part-time elected supervisors, but we don't want to put too much on their shoulders so they no longer want to serve.

Three years ago I wrote that a vote for downsizing to 11 would lead to a full-time County Board. That hasn't happened, yet. But, I can see the writing on the wall for that possibility if there is not some sort of increase in the size of the County Board.

Seiser is the editor of the Regional News.

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