Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Winning the election is just the start

by Dave Bretl - Walworth County Administrator

April 12, 2012

The county board’s 2010-2012 term is drawing to a close. Final committee meetings were held on March 22. Supervisors will officially begin their next two-year term on April 17.

While the board typically meets on the second Tuesday of each month, in this instance, state law trumps our local rule. Statutes require that county boards, throughout the state, conduct an organizational meeting on the third Tuesday after each regular election at which supervisors are elected. County board supervisors in Wisconsin, with the exception of Milwaukee County, serve two-year terms. Therefore, the organizational process takes place every other year following the spring election.

The first order of business at the meeting is to swear in new members. Even though the election took place on April 3, terms of office do not officially begin until the 17th. Next, supervisors elect a county board chairperson from among the eleven-member board. The chair presides over board meetings, approves the board’s agenda and signs all official actions on behalf of the county. He or she carries out the duties of county administrator in the event that office becomes vacant. Ordinances allow the chairperson to appoint ad hoc committees to study specific topics. The chairperson nominates replacements to serve on the county board in the event a supervisory vacancy occurs due to the resignation or death of a member between elections. In addition to these duties, the chairperson serves on six of the board’s standing committees as well as a number of other committees and boards. The chair will earn $1,000 per month during the next term. Compensation for all other supervisors has been established this term at $500 per month. Unlike a number of other county boards throughout the State, county-paid health insurance is not provided to Walworth County Board supervisors.

Until 1998, an unwritten rule held that the chair would pass to the member with the longest tenure, who had not yet served as chair. Today, any member is free to run for chair; however, supervisors nominated to the post typically have previous experience on the board.

In the event the chairperson is unable to perform his or her duties, a vice chairperson, also elected by the full board, would assume the duties of the office. In many Wisconsin counties, a second vice chairperson is elected. In Walworth County, the chairperson of the executive committee, also elected by the full board, would succeed the vice chairperson in the event he or she was unable to serve. This rule first went into effect in 2004, prompted, in part, to ensure that county government would continue to operate in the event of a major terrorist act or natural disaster.

The election process begins with nominations for the position of chairperson. Those competing for the job are given an opportunity to address their peers in a short speech, in which candidates typically outline their vision for the county and plan for leading the board. State law, which normally requires all voting to be public, provides an exception in the case of the election of county leadership positions. Secret ballots are allowed. A majority of the supervisors at the meeting is required in order to be elected. Assuming all eleven supervisors are in attendance, six votes are required. If no winner emerges after the first ballot, a second round of balloting is conducted. In past years, the supervisor garnering the fewest votes has typically withdrawn from the contest, although nothing requires that they do so. Supervisors continue to cast ballots until a winner emerges. Following election, the new chairperson takes his or her seat in front of the board and presides over the balance of the meeting. The elections of vice chair and chair of the executive committee are conducted in the same manner.

Following the board meeting, a nominating committee, consisting of the county board chair, vice-chair and executive committee chairperson, makes recommendations for assigning supervisors to the board’s ten standing committees. The nominating committee’s work is subject to approval by the full board, and while supervisors are free to deviate from the committee’s suggestions, its recommendations are generally approved. Reasons for the board’s approval are both professional and practical. Supervisors pay deference to the work of their colleagues, which can be time consuming. At a more practical level, tweaking the committee’s recommendations on the board floor can be tricky. County ordinances provide that each supervisor is required to serve on a specific number of committees. Moving a member from one committee to another can have a cascading effect, necessitating a number of other moves.

The whole organizational process takes place in one week and culminates with the board’s first business meeting, which will be held on Thursday, April 19. The newly constituted committees will meet later in the month. Each will elect its own chair and vice-chair and then resume the county’s business for the next term, which will expire in April of 2014.

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