May 22, 2019 – Washington Co., WI – The Washington County Executive Committee along with the full County Board met Wednesday evening at Washington County Fair Park to hold a public discussion on whether the county should shift its form of government changing from an appointed county administrator to an elected county executive.
Steve Kreklow, the administrator in the Village of Germantown, kicked off the meeting with a primer on how each form of government would work. Kreklow had an extensive background working in the City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County as well as some time in California government.
“Every government I’ve gone into is somewhat unique,” said Kreklow.
Some of the items he discussed included responsiveness to the public, staff relationships, accountability to the public and reacting to initiatives.
County Supervisors peppered Kreklow with a number of questions including staffing, the efficiency of government, and larger counties adopting an elected county executive while smaller counties trend to an appointed county administrator,
“I don’t have a good theory on why many of the larger counties have moved in this direction,” Kreklow said. “I’ve seen both systems work well and both systems have struggled.”
Kreklow made clear he was not making a recommendation on which direction the county should move, although he did talk about best practices.
“What determines efficiency is not the structure of government but the leaders coming together on critical decisions and giving staff clear direction,” he said. “Local governments that struggle don’t have a clear direction. It’s more about the ability to generate consensus.”
After a five minute break, the executive committee resumed the meeting to hear comments from the public. There were about 30 people in attendance.
Nine people spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting. Concerns were wide ranging from support because “the county is in a time of change” to “we need strong leadership in place.”
Jim Dicks has lived in Washington County for 25 years. “Since Washington County has reached the size and complexity to have someone accountable to Washington County, let the people speak at the ballot box,” he said.
Jodi Schulteis of Colgate talked about empowerment, leadership and strategic direction. “It’s refreshing to observe growth; there are more opportunities to be proactive rather than reactive,” she said. “One can’t practice leadership standing still, we need new ideas and new people. The time is now to move to a county executive form of governance.”
Former Boltonville Fire Chief Ken Ramthun asked, “What’s wrong with our current system. Steve Kreklow used the term accountability. What will it take for the exec to be reelected. They need to be accountable but then they’ll always try to get reelected. Elections are expensive. Will the person be qualified or want to get elected again. Sometimes I feel over regulated.”
Diane Petersen of Richfied had multiple concerns about the public having less of a say in local government and if the county executive is elected the County Board would lose power. “I want my supervisor to do the job they were elected to do,” Petersen said. “Are you ready to give up those responsibilities. Are you ready to give up rights the other 59 counties have.”
Petersen also made clear Milwaukee County can have an elected executive because its population is over the state mandated 500,000 requirement.
Washington County’s population in 2017 was approximately 135,000.
Marie Graziano made it clear she was definitely against an elected executive. “The way we have it now is equal representation,” she said. “I don’t want to be Milwaukee or California with county executives when they’re fiscally irresponsible.
Dennis Gehring echoed Graziano and asked chairman Don Driefall if a change “will be more efficient and cost effective.” Don Kriefall did not respond.
“You will have less representation from less populated areas. Just like California, you’re giving too much power to one man. Why do this now? Is it because of voting for projects? You’re losing power the current system is working fine.”
County Clerk Ashley Reichert wrapped up the public comment portion of the meeting by reading a letter from Crystal Berg from the Town of Erin. “This board has made this county more efficient. Moving to elected county executive could and would move the county to better success,” Berg wrote.
Members of the County Board then weighed in.
District 6 Supervisor Denis Kelling – I do trust the voters in this county to make the decision. No way someone without experience would get elected. We have a lot of growth and it’s hard for a large business to negotiate with 26 people. Easier to negotiate with one person. I believe voters will put someone qualified into office. I’m not completely sold on it but I see a lot of advantages in going this route especially with accountability to the people.
District 23 Supervisor Brian Gallitz – I think this is a great county and things should remain as is.
District 14 Supervisor Marcella Bishop – At this point I don’t feel the need for a county executive. Yes there have been a lot of changes made in the system of our county board and how we run our business and it has shown well. We’ve been fiscally responsible and putting an executive in place at this time may some time in the future as we grow but I think it’s in the more distant future. We would lose who we are as the county and there would not be a strong representation of who we are.
District 20 Supervisor Mark McCune – We need to look at this strongly for the long term decisions for the entire county. Think an executive would represent the entire county. Currently 26 elected county supervisors. An executive would represent the entire county. I’ve heard there’s a fear to influence certain people and the public – there’s a fear we could get someone who is not educated or informed. The public has proven in the past they elect good people in the county. Ken Miller, G’town, Tom Sackett, Rick Gundrum in Slinger and Don Kriefall representing Richfield. Similar to a company an executive would be able to lead. We would still have staff department heads. For the years I’ve been on the board we’ve had staff department heads. We wouldn’t be changing the department head structure and the accountability would enhance our county. Others who say they’re against it I think we’re being short sighted. Having the exec format would help make the best decision. I have the faith in the voters.
District 1 Supervisor Kris Deiss – I agree with Mark 100% and voters would be smart enough to elect the right person. Thanks to all the people who are here tonight. You’re such a small part of a county with 135,000 people. Nine people spoke and five against and four in favor. This will be an issue that can go either way. My feeling is I’m not so much against the county exec but I’m not sure it’s the right time for it. Mr. Schoemann is an excellent administrator – it’s not that we’re in dire straits and I would back him if he decided to run.
District 5 Supervisor Michael Bassill – What is our job? Are we visionaries?? There’s a train coming down the tracks. How many farmers went out in the state of Wisconsin. As a county board member – I need to start thinking about 2035 and 2040. This is the time …. It’s about the structure of county government.
District 25 Supervisor Jeff Schleif – We all have a decision to make. Hoping we can get together and find the right answer.
District 2 Supervisor Roger Kist – I can’t tell you how excited I was to meet new exec director in Josh Schoemann. When he came in there were a lot of people upset. I thought Josh is great and doing a great job and I can’t imagine we can find anybody better to lead Washington County.
District 13 Supervisor Robert Hartwig – This is a hard decision but I wonder how our smaller communities, townships and villages and that’s one reason why I’m not sure. Think this over carefully. I’ve been here since a little kid and that’s why I got involved. I’m here for the people. I’m asking you to decide what’s best for Washington County.
District 21 County Board Chairman Don Kriefall – This board has never shirked its responsibility to make change. I appreciate what supervisor Brandt said about development but managing it is important too. Managing it with 26 people rather than one. Is now the right time? If we wait I think we will regret not moving forward.
No decision was made Wednesday evening. The next meeting was scheduled for Tuesday, June 18.