County Board balance of power shifts dangerously

THE BALANCE OF POWER has shifted – dramatically – on the Sheboygan County Board of Supervisors from the city of Sheboygan to the rest of the county.

At the same time, there appears to be a concentration of power in the hands of a small number of supervisors – although the reality might not be the same, the appearance is still there.

The 2010 census saw a continued population shift away from the city of Sheboygan. Combined with a reduction in the size of the County Board from 34 to 25 supervisors, it meant the new board had 15 districts outside the city and 10 in the city – a marked change from 16 districts in the city and 18 outside on the 34-member board.

Eventhoughthat’sa3to2marginofcountytocityofSheboygan supervisors, that margin isn’t reflected on the board’s two most influential committees – Executive and Finance.

There is now not a single supervisor from the city of Sheboygan on either of those committees. Not one.

Executive makes all committee appointments, a number of other county appointments, reviews most ordinances and resolutions considered by the full board, and is generally considered the most powerful of the board’s eight committees. The Finance Committee is in charge of the annual county budget, determining spending, the tax levy and the tax rate, and also is in charge of other fiscal matters. The budget document it produces is typically adopted with little or no change by the full board.

If you live in the city of Sheboygan, you might call that taxation without representation.

The lack of representation on the Executive and Finance committees from the county’s largest city came about when Supervisor George Marthenze was appointed to replace Michael Vandersteen – who resigned from the board when he was elected mayor of Sheboygan in April – on the Finance Committee earlier this month.

That appointment also means that three supervisors – Marthenze, William Goehring and Thomas Wegner – serve on both committees and, in fact, form a majority on both committees.

Several supervisors questioned that concentration of power when the appointments were voted on at the last board meeting, and rightly so.

They cast no aspersions on any one of the three supervisors and neither would we. All three have served honestly, diligently and independently for years on the County Board, as well as on other local government bodies. All three are fair and dedicated public servants.

But still, the appearance of such a concentration of power is not a good thing, even if nothing untoward should ever occur – and it likely won’t.

In the public sector, appearance and perception can be just as important as reality – something the County Board has apparently failed to grasp in this instance.

At issue:
Sheboygan shut out, ‘gang of three’
Bottom line:
Imbalance needs redressing

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