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Walworth County Board might stagger terms

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Kayla Bunge
July 15, 2009
— Walworth County Board supervisors soon could be elected in alternating years—but they're not rushing to change the ordinance and make it official.

The county board on Tuesday tabled a proposal to change the terms for county board supervisors because some supervisors wanted more time to evaluate the proposal.


"And that's fine," said Walworth County Board Chairwoman Nancy Russell, who proposed the change. "We don't have to rush."


The county board plans to review the proposal again at its meeting Aug. 11.


According to the proposed ordinance, supervisors in odd-numbered districts would be elected in odd years, and supervisors in even-numbered districts would be elected in even years.


Supervisors still would serve two-year terms, according to the proposal.


According to the proposal, the change would be effective in 2012, and supervisors in odd-numbered districts would be elected to serve a one-year term until the terms are appropriately staggered.


Russell proposed the change because she wants to ensure that a number of experienced members are serving on the board at all times—especially now that the board is smaller and the likelihood of significant turnover is greater.


"We could theoretically lose a majority or more of the incumbents, and therefore lose a great deal of the institutional knowledge on the board," she said.


Supervisor Kathy Ingersoll, who represents District 6, which includes the city of Elkhorn, said the change is smart.


"We can't guarantee the same people will be returned (to office)," she said. "Say only three are re-elected. That leaves a lot of responsibility on the ones who are returned (to office) because it takes a while for (new supervisors)…to become grounded and understand the process and the board."


Ingersoll said the change also gives constituents some security.


"They know there still will be somebody there who understands the issues," she said.


Supervisor Mark Bromley, who represents District 3, which includes La Grange, Sugar Creek and Whitewater townships, said the change would give the board some stability.


"If there's a major turnover in supervisors in one election, at least there will be the remaining supervisors…so we don't lose that institutional memory," he said.


Walworth County Administrator Dave Bretl said there are distinct advantages and disadvantages to staggering terms.


On the positive side, it would help "moderate" turnover.


"It certainly is possible—if there was a particular issue that polarized voters—that all 11 board members could be replaced in one election," he said. "And that's a significant loss of institutional knowledge. We depend on our supervisors now more than ever to have that knowledge… There's a learning curve there."


But on the negative side, it takes away voters' ability to affect "wholesale change" if they are unhappy with the board.


"Some say (voters) ought to have that ability to vote everyone out in a single election," he said.


Walworth County Clerk Kim Bushey said the change would take effect well after the census, which will require municipal clerks to reconfigure their election software as a result of redistricting.


"After a census is completed, we start out with a blank slate," she said. "We'll be doing some of that work anyway, so from an administrative perspective, it makes sense (to stagger terms at the same time)."


Russell said there still are some things to figure out, such as when supervisors will be appointed to committees. Supervisors currently are appointed to committees every two years, but after the change, they could be appointed every year to ensure a mix of newly elected and incumbent supervisors fill each committee, she said.



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