Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Northwestern on the Board Size:

I made the paper...

Board size on table for third time since 1990
County Board chairman soon to tap panel to study possible reduction of 38 supervisors; past studies fizzled
By Alex Hummel of The Northwestern
The third Winnebago County Board study of its membership size in about 16 years is on the way, and it's hard to argue the always-contentious topic hasn't had its share of look-sees.

On Tuesday, Winnebago County Board Chairman David Albrecht, of Oshkosh, laid out basic expectations and questions for a panel that will be appointed in the next month. It will be the third since 1990 to consider whether the 38 supervisor board, among the largest of its kind in Wisconsin, should shrink.

Yes or no, the more eye-opening result may be whether the new findings get any more respect than their predecessors.

This time around, the rules have changed, Albrecht stressed. A new state law gives county boards and referendum-focused citizens power to alter county board sizes in between once-a-decade U.S. Census counts. Traditionally supervisory district lines were adjusted to account for population changes every 10 years.

Citizen and political groups around Wisconsin – including the League of Women Voters chapters in Winnebago County – are already mulling or pushing petition drives to put board-reducing referenda on fall ballots. Boards, on the other hand, can vote to thin their own ranks.

"I know for a fact somebody's going to do it for us if we don't start looking into it," Albrecht said during his presentation Tuesday, which cited six counties "actively in the process" of considering board size changes.

Albrecht said he plans to appoint five County Board supervisors to the new panel. They'll include supervisors with urban and rural constituencies. The panel also will feature pro and anti board-size shrinkers. Albrecht hinted that the Oshkosh Area League of Women Voters, which has long advocated a smaller Winnebago County
Board, will have a seat.

Supervisor Jef Hall of Oshkosh questioned whether the League's presence doesn't instantly slant the panel.

"It will be worked out fairly," Albrecht said.

Board vice chairman, Supervisor John Schaidler of Menasha, urged the new committee to review the work of the previous county panels that studied and authored reports on board size. But history shows past conclusions received cool-at-best receptions.
In 1990, a "Task Force Study: Efficiency and Effectiveness of Winnebago County Government" was, largely, ditched.

The supervisor, citizen, county staff and University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh faculty task force examined everything from board compensation to board size to committee structure. Among its key recommendations: A county board somewhere between 15 and 30 supervisors.

One conclusion even pronounced "A large board is not necessary to operate Winnebago County government" given "most county boards throughout the United States have between five and 15 members. It is highly unlikely that Winnebago County possesses such unique characteristics that it requires such a large board for its operations."

The 1990 task force also concluded "a large board does not provide more citizen representation," "a large board may discourage citizen participation," "a large board makes it difficult to have an efficient decision-making process," and "a large board costs a good deal of money."

Supervisor Joe Maehl of Neenah begged to differ on the latter Tuesday.

"In plain black and white dollars, it is not cheaper," Maehl, a size-reduction opponent, said.

In 2000, a second County Board size examination was headed off before it formally started. The mere suggestion of a supervisor reduction was killed. In its place, an "exploration committee" studied the re-sorting of the county's 30 committees and commissions.

In the end, the committee suggested increasing supervisor meeting pay. Its call for reorganization fizzled.

I have written on this before here.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Groundbreaking set for new Park View

Project 'going well,' administrator says
By Krista B. Ledbetter of The Northwestern

If You Go

What: Groundbreaking for new Park View Health Center

When: 2 p.m., Aug. 9

Where: 725 Butler Ave.

Years of planning and months of plan changing have finally led to a groundbreaking for the new Park View Health Center.

Margie Rankin, administrator of Park View, said construction of the new county-owned nursing home is scheduled to start on Aug. 9.

"The project is really going well," Rankin said. "There haven't been any major barriers. We're progressing nicely."

Mike Elder, director of the Winnebago County Facilities and Property Management Department, said no changes have been made to the plans since the Winnebago County Board of Supervisors approved the $23.34 million project in late February.

The board approved the project as a 136,000-square-foot facility with 168 beds, 54 fewer than Park View is now licensed for. The county had been studying options for the current 56-year-old Park View since late 2002.

Elder also said the Park View and facilities and property management committees are in the process of getting bids out for foundation and site work, and another bid
project will go out later in the summer for the remainder of the project.

Rankin said construction of the new nursing home is expected to last about 16 months.

Since the project was approved, a construction fund and a permanent endowment fund have been set up through the Oshkosh Community Foundation, Rankin said.

"People also have an opportunity to make a donation directly to Park View," she said.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Shrink the County Board?

Winnebago board chair to ask for committee to study board size
By Alex Hummel

of the Northwestern

The chairman of the Winnebago County Board of Supervisors said he plans to ask his 37 peers to back the formation of a special committee to study the shrinking of the full county board.

“I personally think our board functions fine,” said County Board Chairman and Supervisor David Albrecht of Oshkosh. “(But 38 supervisors) may not be the number we come up with … I also know from different times in board history we could have eliminated four positions and never missed a beat.”

Albrecht is not saying it should shrink, but he said in two weeks he will recommend a special board committee be created to study a possible reduction in the 38-member board. The panel may not be officially formed until August or September he said.

Albrecht plans to outline background and directions for this would-be panel during the county board’s regular, July 18 meeting.He said his presentation, delayed in June due to lingering controversy on touch-screen voting machines, will include some discussion of other counties that are approving or considering board size reductions around Wisconsin. It would also outline some general assignments and expectations of the committee.

The Northwestern will have more on this story in Saturday's edition.

I am looking forward to this debate. I personally believe that more representation is better (I discuss that here). And wheterh they will admit it or not, the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance agrees as well:

Using sophisticated statistical techniques, WISTAX researchers found that, after accounting for other factors, an increase in county board size of one supervisor was associated with lower spending of $8 to $10 per resident.

I do hope that the Board (and Chair) will approach this discussion (as well as committee assignment) in a more open manner than has been done previously this term.

The $2500 Sales Presentation

Here I am, filling out my Per Diem Report (a time card for County Board Supervisors) when it hits me.

We get paid $60 for full board meetings vs $40 for committee hearings. That means the 25 Supervisors present at the Diebold sales presentation last month were paid a total of $2100. This does not include the salaries of other county employees or other costs to having a meeting.

Was it really worth it to spend $2500 of County funds to see just one machine and not be allowed a real debate on the issue? Were the taxpayers and voters truly served by this fiasco?

Or was it one big waste of time and money?

It might have been worth it had the County Board Chair listened to the recommendation of the Judiciary and IS (of which I am a member) Committees and invited as many vendors as would attend. We could have gotten real information and accountability out to the public.

As it was, I would hope someone in the county would try to re-coup the money spent on this from Diebold.

It was their sales presentation, after all.


Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Northwestern: Diebold 'Rushed"

Listed under their bad news on Public Accountability:

County government rushed to support buying Diebold touch-screen voting machines.


Winnebago's Waters Mean Tourist's Dollars..

Tournament and recreational fishing on the Lake Winnebago System generates $221.4 million in local spending and supports about 4,300 jobs, according to a survey.

The $221.4 million in spending is near the $230 million tourists spent in Winnebago County in 2005.