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St. Croix supervisors ponder restructuring

Although more than a third of them won't be back, St. Croix County supervisors were asked last week to give serious thought to how they believe the new board should be organized.

Last fall county residents voted to cut the number of county board members from 31 to 19. A redistricting plan has been developed, and when board candidates file for the 2010 spring election, they will run for 12 fewer seats.

The Administration Committee has been charged with developing proposals to restructure board committees. Last week that committee asked other supervisors for input.

The board currently has 23 committees, too many most agree for 19 supervisors.

"My job is to throw some ideas out there," said UW-Extension Community Resource Development Agent Pete Kling, who has collected data to consider.

"You're not the only one that's dealt with this," said Kling. He said five other Wisconsin counties recently reduced the size of their county boards. The average board size in Wisconsin is now 25.

Issues to be addressed, said Kling, include improving communications within the board, ensuring adequate geographical representation, maintaining working and reporting relationships with departments, improving the board's ability to address organization-wide issues and improving staff support for committee and board meetings.

One possible organizational chart uses an executive committee and five functional committees. In that case, for an example, the community development committee would have oversight over land and water conservation, planning and zoning, UW-Extension, register of deeds and parks.

In one scenario, the executive committee would be composed of the chairpersons of those five functional committees and the chairman and vice chairman of the full county board.

The advantages of that model are that it ensures representation from each committee, cross-committee and cross-department issues can be coordinated, and committees would be made aware of other committees' issues, said Kling.

But, he said, that model might create a "superior" committee that negates other committees' actions and could even serve as a mini-county board.

Over her years on the board, she has talked to supervisors from other counties who believe their executive committees have become too powerful, said Supervisor Linda Luckey.

"If you were not on that executive committee, you might as well not bother to show (for committee or county board meetings)," said Luckey, summarizing the frustration she's heard.

That's a reasonable concern, agreed Supervisor John Borup. But then, he said, he's been concerned with the power held by the current Finance Committee.

Borup said he thinks there's a better way of disbursing authority.

Supervisor Daryl Standafer, who chairs the current five-person Finance Committee, said he doesn't believe an executive committee structure would be effective in keeping all board members informed.

Standafer is instead suggesting a committee-of-the-whole structure under which the full board would meet twice a month, once as a working group and once in a legislative session.

Kling also asked supervisors to weigh the pros and cons of five- versus seven-member committees. While the larger committees would mean supervisors would serve on more committees and get a "bigger picture" outlook, that structure could result in "meeting fatigue," said Kling.

While the Administration Committee isn't making any recommendations now, it is asking other supervisors for their ideas.

"This is for you to have something to work from rather than having a blank piece of paper," said Administrative Coordinator Chuck Whiting.

Discussion is expected to continue at the Sept. 22 board meeting with a possible vote on a proposal at the Oct. 20 meeting.