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.


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