If it ain’t broke, it might still need improving
By Don Kriefall
As the Washington County Board deliberates over the potential change to the county executive model of government, I would like to take the time to thank the citizens who attended our Executive Committee meeting on May 22 at the Washington County Fairgrounds. Thanks also to Village of Germantown Administrator Steve Kreklow, whose informative presentation about the different forms of county government was well-received. Some of the comments and concerns about potential change focused on the fact that Washington County government has been very successful using the administrator form of government and currently has a very competent Administrator in Josh Schoemann, so why “upset the apple cart”?
Successful organizations continually look for ways to improve and innovate. Those who fail to do so are destined to fail. Implementing solutions that involve changing from a comfortable situation is difficult and can make one apprehensive and uneasy. Change comes with risk, but when the potential reward outweighs that risk, the choice becomes clear.
I would like to answer some of the concerns voiced at the meeting.
There was concern that an unqualified individual could be elected.
Washington County elects its circuit court judges, district attorney, clerk of courts, county clerk, treasurer, register of deeds, and county sheriff. In each case the electorate of Washington County chose wisely and elected qualified and competent individuals that serve our citizens admirably. I trust the citizens of Washington County to make informed decisions.
There was concern that the County Board supervisors would cede their authority to one person and not properly represent their constituents.
The County Board controls the purse strings of county government. Every fiscal resolution must be passed with a two-thirds majority, a vetoproof majority. Each supervisor would continue to represent their respective district, listen to their constituents and vote accordingly. That would not change.
There was concern that a county executive would control the narrative and be beholden only to Hartford and West Bend.
The County Board chairperson sets and approves all agenda items. Should the county executive propose an initiative that the chairperson disagrees with, that item will not be placed on the agenda of any committee or County Board. Whether administrator or executive, the real power resides with the chair. That would not change.
There was a concern that we should not consider changing now since the county is in a good situation with our capable administrator.
We are in a good situation, both fiscally and operationally. The fact of the matter is that we are in the middle of an economic boom, and our geographic location makes us part of metro Milwaukee and like it or not, the economic development has already begun.
There is good reason that people have decided to live in Washington County, the No. 1 county in Wisconsin for quality of life. We want to preserve the values and unique characteristics that make Washington County so special. We want to be in a position to manage growth and thereby maintain and continue to improve the quality of life for the citizens of Washington County. In order to effectively manage the growth, all stakeholders, countywide, need to be brought to the table. An appropriate plan of action, beyond our current smart growth plans, must be developed and agreed upon by all the municipalities in Washington County in order for each community to benefit from those opportunities. One voice, one leader with the mandate of the citizens, should lead Washington County into the bright future that awaits us.
We need a leader that can leverage our industry and technical schools to train the workers needed to provide the goods and services necessary for our citizens and beyond. We need a leader that can create partnerships outside of Washington County to recruit the workers necessary to fill employment opportunities currently open and those that will be created in the future. We need a leader that can work with developers to construct housing for that workforce that is appropriate to the communities in which they will be built. We need a leader that can work with other counties to explore avenues of cooperation in shared services, equipment and infrastructure.
A system with 26 diverse supervisors cannot negotiate as one voice. A system with a part-time county chairperson is inadequate to lead as the CEO of Washington County. Yes, our current system “ain’t broke,” but it is insufficient to accomplish the ever evolving tasks necessary to manage growth now and into the future. That one voice needs to be a county executive that is accountable to the electorate and the time to elect that leader is now.
(Don Kriefall is Washington County Board chairman.)