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St. Croix County committee says stick with administrator

In an apparent shift of direction, the St. Croix County Board’s Administration Committee voted last week to recommend that the county keep its administrator form of government.

Employee morale was an issue in April when five incumbent supervisors were ousted and 10 new members were elected to the 19-member board.

Last week Roy Sjoberg, one of the new supervisors, made the motion to keep the administrator system, saying he’s now convinced it was not the form of government that was the problem, but it was how the county was handling employee issues post-Act 10.

Act 10, adopted by the Wisconsin Legislature, severely limits collective bargaining for public employees, affecting their pay, retirement plans, health insurance and sick leave.

A resolution to decide whether to stay with the county administrator position, which has more authority over personnel and budget matters or to revert to the administrative coordinator system came before the full County Board in June. Action on that resolution was postponed until October.

But last week, on a 4-1 vote, the Administration Committee agreed to put a new resolution to keep the administrator system on the full board’s Sept. 2 agenda.

After the new board was seated, the root of employee morale problems was investigated, said Sjoberg: “Everything was on the table.”

There was concern about how the county was operating and in June county supervisors decided to take time to consider changing the form of governance, not to take drastic action, and to bring the issue back in October, said Sjoberg.

“Since June I think we’ve addressed a lot of these issues that were of concern and what I, at least personally, have learned is that this administration is very receptive to our concerns,” he said.

Sjoberg said that is evidenced by the work that has gone into a “major reconstruction” of the human resources handbook, putting employee rights at a higher level, making employee management more transparent and allowing the Administration Committee more review authority.

“I remember (former board member) Buck Malick, whom I respect greatly, saying give more direction to your county administrator and see,” said Sjoberg, adding that over the last several months Administrator Pat Thompson has “performed admirably.”

Sjoberg said he has been greatly impressed with Thompson, Corporation Counsel Scott Cox and Human Resources Director Tammy Funk.

“At this point I agree 110 percent with what Roy said,” said Supervisor Ron Kiesler, New Richmond. He added that he helped elect a chairman and vice chairman to lead the board, they both favor the administrator system, and he has no reason not to support what they’ve been doing.

Saying it might look like he’s “going off reservation,” Kiesler seconded Sjoberg’s motion.

He said he has talked with many constituents, employees and other supervisors and while there are opinions on both sides of the issue, the frontline leadership believes in the administrator form of government.

“So yes I have changed my position on this,” said Kiesler, “but I think a number of board members have.”

He added, “I’m here to help speak for the folks that don’t feel they have a voice and to represent the constituents of the county.” Those interests have been represented well by the board, partly because it gave direction to administration, said Kiesler.

Although she respects the other committee members’ position, she still favors the administrative coordinator form of government, said Supervisor Jill Berke, town of Troy.

“Anyway, I just needed to say that,” said Berke.

Committee Chairman Travis Schachtner, one of the incumbents who remained on the board, said he has always preferred the county administrator system, fearing that without it, the board could be very involved in day-to-day activities.

But, he said, he thought that decision should be made by the full board.

Schachtner said the committee wouldn’t have been able to develop the handbook without assuming that the administrator would stay. And, he said, the board can’t adopt bylaws until this is addressed.

Schachtner said Thompson has been very open to oversight from the committee.

The resolution to keep the administrator form of government was adopted on a 4-1 vote with only Berke voting no.

Judy Wiff

Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.

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