Bretl writes columns as a self-check on county government
ELKHORN When he started writing his column, Walworth County Administrator Dave Bretl was playing defense.
Eleven years later, Bretl still is writing, but his columns now are more a reminder to himself about important issues facing Walworth County, he said.
“Back in 2001, a Lake Geneva reporter covered us, and some of his stories were critical of our operations,” Bretl said. “I admit there were plenty of issues to discuss, but I just felt we needed equal time. I proposed writing a weekly column. The paper took me up on it.”
Hundreds of columns later, Bretl still is writing, but he’s cut back to a column every other week. His column has regular circulation in several weekly papers in the Walworth County area.
Bretl often delves into technical aspects of county government, but he writes in an informal style that’s easy to understand.
“The controversial ones always seem to be the ones in which I never intended any controversy,” Bretl said. “I wrote about downsizing the county nursing home. I said something to the effect that old people today don’t need things they used to need.”
Bretl got an earful from Walworth County seniors.
“What I meant to say is that nursing homes have become facilities for skilled nursing care as opposed to the past when our residents drove cars, shopped and were much more active,” he said. “Those folks are now living at home, in group home settings and other facilities while the nursing home cares for people with greater needs.”
Bretl has been known to get ahead of the story.
“When I knew Kevin Brunner, the former Whitewater city manager, was coming to work for us, I wrote a column outlining the five things he would be focusing on,” Bretl said. “The problem was I forgot to tell Kevin before the column was published.”
Bretl has a bachelor’s degree in political science, a master’s in public administration and a law degree, all from UW-Madison.
“I have no formal training in journalism, but I like to write,” he said. “It forces me to focus.”
Here are examples of a few of Bretl’s columns:
-- He related proposals for the new county judicial center to considering options on a new car.
-- He posted a column from Frankfurt, Germany, explaining the 80-20 rule. Germans, he said, are like Americans 80 percent of the time. The other 20 percent, such as when they “ski down mountains wearing giant rabbit heads,” they are not.
-- He provided a fact some residents may not know when considering the actions of the county board. “I do not vote,” he said.
-- On consultants: “Of all the studies I see gathering dust on shelves over the year, the majority are prepared, often at great expense, by consultants.”
-- He explained why frogs jump out of hot water and newspapers downsized, both in one column.
He recently received an email complimenting him on his columns.
“Thanks,” Bretl replied. “You just doubled my readership.”