The time is now for county board reform

Fifty-three years ago, John Doyne became Milwaukee’s first county executive. Between 1960 and the mid-1970s, working with a part-time board, the county gained national recognition for ambitious, successful projects including a new zoo, Mitchell Park Domes, the Performing Arts Center and the Regional Medical Complex.

Years later, the job of county supervisor became full-time, and today, Milwaukee County is better known for pension scandals, debt, dysfunction and a broken governance structure. Now is the time to reevaluate our priorities, to focus on efficiencies and to restore Milwaukee County to a governance model that proved effective and helped move our community forward.

If approved by the voters, this legislation would restore the position of Milwaukee County Supervisor to part-time and cap compensation, a move that would bring it in line with every other board in the state. The change would enable a more diverse group of residents to participate in board governance, allowing individuals from all walks of life and current work-commitments to bring fresh energy to Milwaukee County government. A part-time board would be more focused on the broader policy issues that are at the core of its purpose. We believe that these changes will allow Milwaukee County Supervisors to better serve their constituents, by focusing on the critical services the County provides.

Milwaukee County residents have already signaled their support for these reforms. In spring of 2012, residents of 12 Milwaukee County municipalities indicated their desire for change when more than 80 percent of voters supported a nonbinding referendum calling for a part-time county board. The legislation would once again give voters the opportunity to choose how they would be represented, through a binding referendum on the April 2014 ballot. It will let the voters, not the politicians themselves, decide what is most important – critical quality-of-life services or preserving the full-time jobs of career politicians.

The legislation also includes critical reforms that would quickly improve the effectiveness and efficiency of Milwaukee County governance. Currently, the Milwaukee County Board far outspends its peers in the state and around the nation for its own operational budget. For example, Milwaukee County is about twice the size as Dane County, but spends nearly seven times as much on its board operations. This legislation would change that by capping operating costs, saving Milwaukee County millions of dollars annually and freeing up much-needed resources for mental health, transit, parks and other key county services – without additional taxes. It would also bring the cost of board governance in line with its statewide and national peers.

Additionally, the legislation would address a fundamental problem related to Milwaukee County government by clearly outlining the proper authorities of the county executive and members of the Milwaukee County Board. In 1960, the state created the county executive model of governance as an option for counties. The state intended for administrative duties to be shifted to the county executive and for the board to focus on broader policy concerns. At that time, Milwaukee County residents voted to adopt this form of government, but it has not worked as the state intended, as the Milwaukee County board has increased its involvement in the day-to-day administration of the county. This bill finishes the job the state started many years ago, by further clarifying a model of governance that voters have already adopted.

If we are to protect and enhance the key services that make our community a great place to live, work and play we need smarter, more effective and more cost-efficient government. The changes outlined in the legislation are not partisan or political, as good government benefits all. These reforms are the most important changes we can make to positively impact Milwaukee County and quickly and effectively foster good governance and meet the needs of Milwaukee County taxpayers in an effective manner. This legislation will have a lasting positive impact on the future of our families, our businesses and our community. If you agree, call your state legislators and ask them to support current and future residents of Milwaukee County by supporting this legislation.

In addition to State Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R-West Allis), this blog was co-signed by State Reps. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield), Dave Craig (R-Waterford), Mike Kuglitsch (R-New Berlin), Mark Honadel (R-South Milwaukee) and Jim Ott (R-Mequon).

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