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County Board fails to pass measure on supervisors’ compensation

By RALPH CHAPOCO 262-306-5095

Every so often, attendance at meetings matters greatly. Especially when a measure is brought before a governing body that requires a threshold number of supporting votes for passage — issues that include changing the rules by which county government operates.

The proposal modifying how supervisors are compensated failed Tuesday morning during the body’s regularly scheduled meeting. Not because it did not have support — 16 supervisors voted for the measure versus the eight who were against it, but because it did not meet the baseline number that was required for passage.

There is a higher standard to modify how the county conducts business. The rule states twothirds of supervisors must agree to the change, and since there are 26 of them serving, 18 must agree.

Had the rule been two-thirds of those present must vote yes, the proposal would have had just enough support to move forward. However, two supervisors, Dawn Eyre and Jeffrey Schleif, were absent and excused, so the ordinance change was two votes short of passage.

Schleif and Eyre could not be reached for comment.

The counterfactual is difficult to prove. The chain of events that could have confirmed the outcome did not happen. There was also substantial opposition to the proposal so the supervisors’ absences were not the exclusive reason for the failure, but they were a potential factor.

The plan to restructure supervisor pay began when County Board Chairman Rick Gundrum formed the Structure Review Advisory Committee assigned to review modifications to the governing structure implemented after supervisors took office.

Prior to the election, an advisory committee recommended changes.

“We looked at the committee structure of comparable counties to look at how they did things,” Administrator Joshua Schoemann said during a 2016 interview. “We looked at 10 different counties, including Walworth and Rock. We operate similar to Sheboygan, but after the change will look similar to Ozaukee.”

The different structure reflected a philosophical change where supervisors would provide more policy direction and less daily oversight of the departments.

It was also designed to streamline the process for forwarding issues to the county board. Resolutions and ordinances would pass through multiple committees before appearing before the full board. The restructuring permits one committee to approve the proposals before forwarding it for a vote before all supervisors.

The Review Committee made several proposals, including term limits for committee chairs, shuffling the departments various committees are responsible for and the compensation plan for supervisors.

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Supervisors are paid a $6,600 annually for attending 30 meetings. Afterward, they are paid at a per diem rate that varies depending on the number of hours they spend at meetings. It could be as few as $35 and as high as $60.

The new proposal would have eliminated the per diem allotment and instead offered a $550 per month salary. When the proposal reached the Executive Committee, Supervisor Mark McCune made a motion to reduce it to $500 per month, and also applied the reduction to the county board chairman’s salary.

“My concerns with this ordinance is if and individual spends a lot of time on different committees, and you are asked by the county chair and leadership to serve on those committees, that you be rewarded for the extra time you put in,” Supervisor Michael Miller said. “It is like having a company and you have an employee working 60 hours aweek and an employee working 40 hours a week. You would want to compensate the employee for working the 60 hours.

Supervisor Marilyn Merten agreed when she referenced supervisors who are members of multiple committees and allocate additional hours to studying the issues and attend the meetings.

“When you are putting in additional time, you should be recognized for that and compensated for it,” she said. “I have no problem with the compensation reduction and showing a good faith effort that we too are reducing things, but I think the per diem is something to make a fairness out of what committee assignments people have.”

The opponents framed the issue as a fiscal one.

“We just created a committee in the consent agenda that’s geared toward moving off of county tax levy, the History Center, AIS (AgriculturalIndustrial Society), the EDWC (Economic Development Washington County) and the Visitors Bureau,” Supervisor Christopher Bossert said. “Last month we voted to implement park stickers. All of that is for fiscal reasons so we should be looking at our own pay, our own practices and sharing in that pain.”

Supervisor Timothy Michalak agreed.

“As an individual who has been on salary for years, you put in the time and you just get the work done,” he said.

After the ordinance failed, Bossert asked in the issue could be brought before the board once again, but Gundrum said the measure can only be reintroduced by someone who voted against the measure.

“I would just say that the people who just voted against this gave a lot of other people to run for office,” Michalak said.

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