With county board leadership set, members dig into business

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Dave Bretl | April 28, 2014

The newly elected Walworth County Board held its first two meetings of the 2014-'16 term. Supervisors met April 15 to fill three leadership positions. Nancy Russell from Lake Geneva was elected board chair. I lost track of time, but last July, Nancy completed her sixth consecutive year as the board's leader, which represents a record tenure in the position, at least in recent times. Al Morrison held the previous record, having served three consecutive two-year terms. In 1998, Al ran for a second term as chair, breaking away from a fairly long-standing practice of passing the board chairmanship down to the most senior supervisor who had not yet been elected to the position. In retrospect, I think Al had it right when he ended the practice. Chairing the board is a big job and not every supervisor has the time, desire or leadership ability to take on the task. Allowing a chair to serve more than a single term also provides for greater continuity.

Supervisor Rick Stacey, who has represented the East Troy area since 2004, was elected vice chairman. Rick succeeds Jerry Grant, who recently retired from the board. This will be Rick's second stint as vice chair. He previously held the position during the 2006-'08 term. In the final election of the evening, Dave Weber was re-elected to serve as chair of the board's executive committee. Dave has held that position since 2006, nearly as long as the position has been elected by the full board.

None of the leadership elections were contested this year, which has been the case since 2010. The board's consensus makes for a far shorter and less dramatic organizational meeting. County Clerk Kim Bushey, who still remembers some of the contentious elections that used to take place, was armed with stacks of ballots just in case. It wasn't uncommon, prior to 2008, for multiple rounds of balloting to take place before supervisors would choose their leaders.

Having elected their leaders, the board adjourned. A nominating committee, consisting of the board chair, vice chair and executive committee chairman, met the next day to propose committee assignments. Those recommendations were approved by the full board, without dissent, at its April 17 meeting.

With organizational issues out of the way, supervisors got down to business. I always feel sorry for newly elected board members attending the first business meeting of the new term. Not having been privy to all of the meetings and discussions that led up to the agenda, it is a bit like walking into the middle of a movie. Fortunately, the outgoing board  did a good job of winding things up so there wasn't a lot of “heavy lifting” required at the April 17 meeting. A couple of important items at that meeting included recognizing our volunteers and applying for a grant to keep juveniles out of the criminal justice system.

It has become a board tradition, during National Volunteer Week, to take time to acknowledge the contributions of the hundreds of volunteers who make Walworth County such a great place. Although our board meeting took place a bit later than Volunteer Week, which was officially designated April 6 through April 12, that didn't prevent supervisors from passing a resolution honoring all county volunteers and personally recognizing eight volunteers who made extraordinary contributions throughout the year.

Doug Amon and Shirley Blecher assist our health and human services department. Doug delivers Meals on Wheels and Shirley serves as a volunteer guardian. Two University of Wisconsin-Extension volunteers, Kathy Stefanelli and Sarah Anderson, ensure that our master gardeners program keeps growing. The lives of our nursing home residents are made brighter through the efforts of sisters Donna Colaianni and Nancy Shields, who organize numerous volunteer craft projects throughout the year. The final honoree was Donna Mahanna, who helps students at our Lakeland School by serving as a volunteer librarian.

Another important item on the board's April meeting agenda was to consider whether to apply for a Juvenile Justice System improvement grant. The grant would provide up to $25,000 to assist in the development of juvenile justice policy. The grant has a May 1 deadline and came with little advance notice.

Earlier in the month the Walworth County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee recommended that an application be submitted to expand a youth project that has been showing promising results in East Troy. For the past year, the Walworth County Department of Health and Human Services has been sending one or two social workers to the East Troy municipal court on evenings when juveniles are scheduled to appear. The municipal judge there, Michael Cotter, orders juvenile offenders to meet with the social workers. Participation beyond the initial meeting is voluntary.  Those who continue are screened for drug, alcohol and other behavioral issues. Where appropriate, a brief intervention may be conducted or the child may be referred for additional services. By offering services before municipal citations escalate into criminal charges, the goal of the program is to prevent young people from offending and to keep them out of the court system and jails. The grant will permit the pilot project to expand to other municipal courts.

The board's 2014-'16 term is officially underway. You can see the supervisors in action at their next meeting at 6 p.m. May 13 at the Walworth County Government Center or watch the proceedings on the Internet at www.co.walworth.wi.us.

Dave Bretl is the Walworth County administrator. Contact him at (262) 741-4357 or visit www.co.walworth.wi.us.

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