Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Think you’ve got it?

by Dave Bretl - Walworth County Administrator

October 13, 2011

If you have ever thought about serving on the Walworth County Board, consider attending an informational meeting on the subject, which will be held next month. It may seem early to be thinking about the spring election now, but those seeking a seat on the 2012-14 Board of Supervisors can begin circulating nomination papers in December. While incumbents have a good idea about what to expect during the next term, the goal of the meeting is to provide basic facts about board service to citizens who may not be as familiar with the organization.

The meeting will be conducted in a workshop format, to provide those contemplating a run for the County Board with an overview of Walworth County government and a discussion of the time commitment that will likely be required of new supervisors. The two-hour class is not a "how-to" seminar on running for public office but, rather, a preview of what a supervisor might expect to experience if elected to the board. In addition to outlining the wide range of services provided by county government and highlighting some of the legal rules under which supervisors must operate, the workshop will address the relationship between the board and other elected and appointed officials, and review the committee structure.

The idea for the workshop originated in 2007, in anticipation of the board's reduction from 25 to 11 members, which took place the following year. Incumbents, at the time, were concerned the smaller board would result in a significantly greater workload for each supervisor. They felt it was important to apprise anyone considering service on the next board of the time commitment that would likely be required. Since no one knew exactly what to expect on the downsized board, it was necessary to estimate the time that would be required. Those estimates, themselves, were controversial at the time. A point of contention during the debate over downsizing was whether the resulting workload would be manageable. Some felt opponents of downsizing were overstating the amount of time that would be required.

In hindsight, information presented at the inaugural workshop probably underestimated the time commitment actually required of supervisors. With the benefit of nearly four years of experience, we now have a much clearer picture. Time commitments of a supervisor include the following:

• Board meetings. In addition to special board meetings and public hearings that arise from time to time, the County Board typically meets on the second Tuesday of each month, beginning at 6 p.m. The length of these meetings varies greatly depending on the number and type of issues on a particular agenda. Supervisors have other commitments on "County Board Day," as the second Tuesday of each month has come to be called. Every two to three months the board convenes at 5 p.m. as a committee of the whole to discuss an issue in depth. To deal with urgent issues that may have come up between meetings, special standing committee meetings are often held that day, as well. Finally, the board uses that day to establish the agendas for its committee meetings, which are held the following week. Given the number of meetings held, it is not unusual for "County Board Day" to begin at 3 p.m.

• Committee meetings. Supervisor also are responsible for attending meetings of the board's standing committees to which they are assigned. Much of the work of the board is addressed in one of 11 committees. To distribute workload and influence in the organization, committee assignments are divided, more or less equally, among supervisors. Most supervisors are assigned to three or four committees, which typically meet monthly.

• Preparation. In advance of each board and committee meeting, an informational packet is delivered to each supervisor. The packet contains drafts of the legislation to be discussed at the meeting as well as staff analysis of the issues. The length of time required to read this material varies among supervisors. Members interested in the broader policy impacts of a particular course of action can move through a packet relatively quickly while those interested in all of the details spend more time preparing for meetings.

• Additional time commitments. In addition to attending meetings of the standing committees to which they are assigned, some board members attend other standing committee meetings to better prepare themselves for County Board debate. Optional committee assignments are available, as well, to committees such as lake management districts, the Wisconsin River Rail Transit Commission and the Intergovernmental Cooperation Council. A number of supervisors choose to keep in touch with constituents by attending town, village or common council meetings in the districts they represent.

For anyone wondering which supervisory district they will reside in, or potentially represent, district maps are available on the county web page at Follow the link for the "Alternative Redistricting Plan."

The board workshop will be held at the county's Government Center at 9:30 a.m. on Nov. 11.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Walworth County Board of Supervisors.