Letter to the Editor | Consolidation and hiring a new Assistant Washington County Administrator | By Steve Gonwa

 

August 8, 2018 – Washington Co., WI – To the Washington County Board of Supervisors

 

I read with great interest the recent editorial written by Sheriff Dale Schmidt regarding the stated plans of County Chairperson Don Kriefall to consolidate and regionalize the Washington and Ozaukee County 911 Communications Centers, consolidate the two Sheriff’s Departments themselves, and to develop a tri-county corrections  facility to serve Washington, Ozaukee and Waukesha Counties.  Add to that his stated desire for the elimination of all area police departments in Washington County and the creation of a centralized public safety department under the leadership of the Sheriff, and one has to wonder what is happening within Washington County government.

 

From my experience within Washington County, what is happening is accurately described by Sheriff Schmidt. What is apparently occurring is an undisciplined quest for regionalization and centralized power in county government without regard for the impact such action would have on its citizens.  I find it disturbing that an environment has been created in Washington County government  whereby such grandiose and misguided concepts are now not only embedded in the thinking of its top leaders, but encouraged by the administration to the point of folly.

 

It is not surprising that this is the environment created by the County Administrator Josh Schoeman and members of the Executive Committee.  Make no mistake, changes made to the County Board in recent years under Mr. Schoeman have systematically stripped the board of most of their decision-making powers and empowered the governance of the county to Mr. Schoeman, the County Board Chair and the handful of supervisors on the Executive Committee. Past County Boards in my opinion mistakenly allowed this to happen, as we are now seeing the depth of the problems created by these changes.

 

I support consolidation of services when it can be accomplished in a responsible and fiscally prudent manner, and when the overriding goal remains the provision of efficient services to the community. But what started as reasoned attempts at consolidating some specific county services with adjacent counties has clearly morphed into something far more reaching and potentially irresponsible.  Mr. Schoeman and the county have, with some success, consolidated a Health Department and a Medical Examiner Office with Ozaukee County and Waukesha County, respectively.  Perhaps less than 50 employees were affected by these consolidations ( the county floated the concept of a combined Highway Department with Ozaukee County and it proved to be too difficult to even get beyond a basic discussion ). To think that county leadership now believes it has the knowledge, experience and capability to pursue multi-county consolidations of public safety services involving hundreds of employees, millions of dollars in resources and a vast array of critical services shows a serious lack of insight and common sense. I, for one, have no interest in living in the consolidated world of Joshington County.

 

I find it equally disturbing, especially in light of Mr. Kriefall’s stated goals, that Mr. Schoeman is now proposing to add an additional Assistant County Administrator to his staff. The primary duties of this assistant would be to serve as a “lobbyist” to find ways to consolidate and regionalize services with adjacent counties.  An interesting job description, considering that “lobbyist” is almost always associated with “politics.”  If the stated plans of Mr. Kriefall are any indication of the reasonableness of lobbying efforts that this new position will pursue, it would be irresponsible for the County Board to approve such a position.

 

As many former employees of Washington County will recall, the administration of the county was successfully handled for many years by a single position, that of the Administrative Coordinator. That position was held by a single person for many years.  His staff during his tenure was a single administrative secretary.  Each year, budgets had to be prepared and fiscal challenges met and it was done with enough success to identify Washington County as one of the most fiscally sound and best run counties in the state.  When that person retired, Mr. Schoeman assumed the duties of County Coordinator in early 2014.

 

By June 2014, Mr. Schoeman was already working to change the duties, powers and title of the Administrative Coordinator. This was justified in some respects to clarify the role and responsibilities of the position and his title was ultimately changed to County Administrator.  He retained the administrative secretary as his staff, supported as in the past by the County Chair, County Attorney, Finance Director and the various department heads throughout the county.

 

Within one year, Mr. Schoeman successfully lobbied the county board for an Assistant County Administrator position.  Apparently the workload and responsibilities ( that he in part lobbied for ) was too great to handle for just one administrator. Ms. Jamie Ludovic was hired shortly thereafter to serve in that capacity.  Mr. Schoeman had roughly doubled the cost of the single administrator that served  before him.  In 2016,  Mr. Schoeman reassigned Ms. Ludovic  to become the Director of Administrative Services, not the position she was hired for, but necessary to address reorganizations enacted by Mr. Schoeman.  By 2017, she had been promoted to the position of Central Services Director, still at one of the highest pay scales in the county. This was again largely due to the impacts of Mr. Schoeman’s reorganizations.  Ms. Ludovic’s former position of Assistant County Administrator was filled in early 2017 by Matt Furno and the position was re-titled Deputy County Administrator ( during this time, a part-time intern was also hired by Mr. Schoeman, ostensibly to take care of the duties and projects he no longer had time for. )

 

Clearly, the administration of Washington County has been greatly expanded under Josh Schoeman.  These are highly paid executive positions, I believe each earning in excess of $100K annually. Remember that this is in addition to Mr. Schoeman’s top salary in the county far in excess of $100K annually, plus tens of thousands more in bonus pay if he meets his goals each year.  Mr. Schoeman now wants to add another assistant position to his administration.  I am certain it will not be at the cost of another intern. What I am no longer certain of, is what Mr. Schoeman himself actually does anymore.

 

I believe that the additional Assistant County Administrator position being sought by Mr. Schoeman is unwarranted.  What would be more appropriate and more fiscally responsible, would be for the County Board to direct Mr. Schoeman to use the experienced and very expensive staff he already has to concentrate on running the day to day business of Washington County.  That is what he was hired to do;

not to be a politician, not to be a lobbyist and certainly not to be a kingdom or resume builder.  If the existing administration cannot handle the workload of running the county, then redefine Mr. Schoeman’s job responsibilities or seek solutions elsewhere. The solution should not be to add more cost and resources to the administration.

 

The question board supervisors need to be asking is not whether the new position is budget neutral or not, but why the position shouldn’t be eliminated from the budget to actually bring costs down. Each year, Mr. Schoeman has publicly professed that Washington County is standing on the edge of a fiscal precipice that could plunge the county into a fall of cataclysmic proportions. Exactly why an adjoining county would want to partner with us remains to be seen when we are represented as being in such dire straits. Whether you believe his assessment is accurate or not, Mr. Schoeman has been very adept at eliminating positions and stripping down staff in county agencies. Time to follow suit in his own administration.

 

I would strongly recommend that the new position of Assistant County Administrator being proposed at this evening’s county board meeting be rejected. Further, that the substantial pay scale increase for his part-time secretary position be rejected as well.

 

Sincerely,

 

Steve Gonwa

Town of Barton

 

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