A Wisconsin government watchdog claims the Rock County Board of Supervisors’ administration might be violating the state open meetings law regarding pending appointments of new supervisors. The administration contends the actions are lawful.
In late May, District 11 Supervisor Kaelyb Lokrantz resigned after moving from the city and town of Beloit district. In mid-June, District 23 Supervisor Doug Wilde resigned, citing conflicts with his career while serving. The resignations prompted the county to begin a search for replacement candidates.
County Board Chairman Richard Bostwick has the authority to make appointments and fill vacant supervisor seats, with Rock County Corporation Counsel Richard Greenlee contending that how Bostwick chooses to make appointments is not subject to the Wisconsin open meetings law, even after the chairman opted to involve other members of the county board to participate in the selection process and interviews of potential board appointees.
Tom Kamenick, president and founder of the Wisconsin Transparency Project, said the board’s leadership is attempting to delegate responsibilities to a committee that does not hold open public meetings.
“Governmental bodies cannot create other bodies to help them perform their work without those secondary bodies also being open to the public. Operating this way is putting the county at serious risk of substantial legal liability,” Kamenick said.
In response, Greenlee said the county is committed to transparency but claimed that the selection process was not subject to open meetings law requirements because under state law, self-organized county boards “may determine the procedure for filling a vacancy.”
County board policy states that “vacancies during the term of any supervisor shall be filled by the County Board Chair with confirmation by the county board.”
“There are no other provisions of the constitution, statute, ordinance or board rules which deal with appointments for vacancies, and there is no provision that delegates any authority to a group of supervisors to exercise that appointment authority,” Greenlee said.
Greenlee added that Bostwick does not have authority to order any supervisor to assist in the selection process and that those chosen by Bostwick to assist in the replacement effort cannot have power to compel Bostwick to agree with any potential determination or candidate selection.
“Supervisors who have been offered the chance to participate in candidate interviews may provide feedback to the chair in whatever manner the chair deems valuable. Nevertheless, the decision on who to appoint is solely vested in the board chair,” Greenlee said.
Two people have applied for the District 11 vacancy—Janelle Crary and Matt Finnegan. Crary was appointed by the board at last week’s regular board meeting, according to Rock County Administrator Josh Smith.
For the District 23 vacancy, Rock County residents John Burt, Tricia Clasen, Patric Garvin, Craig Gramke, Michael Sheridan and Mary Jo Villa have applied. The person appointed to represent District 23 will serve the unexpired term until the April 2022 election.
County board rules stipulate that vacancies must be filled within 60 working days of the day a resignation occurs.
“That is as much information as I have for you on the timeline at this point,” Smith said.
Smith said there’s no set date at which the next appointment could be made but noted that the next two upcoming board meetings will be held Aug. 12 and Sept. 9. As in the past, the second county board meeting of the month for July and August are not typically held, Smith added.