Jefferson County work ultimately is controlled by the U.S. Constitution, Wisconsin Constitution and laws, and by an elected board of supervisors.
Wisconsin government follows the New York model in that much of state government work is done by local governments, and the bulk of that work is done through and by counties. No other states disperse state functions like New York and Wisconsin.
As mandated by state law, counties have departments such as: Clerk of Courts, Register in Probate, Corporation Counsel, County Clerk, County Treasurer, District Attorney, Economic Development, Emergency Management, Finance, Health Department, Highway, Human Resources, Human Services, Land and Water Conservation, Land Information, Medical Examiner, Planning and Zoning, Register of Deeds, Sheriff, University of Wisconsin Extension and Veterans Services.
Non-mandated services are carried out by other departments: Administration, Child Support, Fair Park, Aging and Disability Resource Center, Management Information Systems, Parks, Surveyor and Treatment Court, for instance. In addition, there are four circuit court branches in the county. As you can see from this list, the 500-plus county employees have a very wide range of tasks to perform as they work on behalf of Jefferson County residents.
Management of all these departments is done by the department directors under the direction of the county administrator. Our county administrator, Ben Wehmeier, receives policy direction from an elected county board through the board chair, currently Jim Schroeder. Most departments have a committee comprised of elected supervisors that make decisions at the department level.
Let me give an example of how this works in our actual world. Let’s say the Parks department is approached by the Fort Atkinson administrator, seeking to buy a bit of the county bike trail so they can extend a street. The issue is considered by Parks Department management, who agree to the idea.
The sale is put into the form of a resolution, with help from administration, and put on the next month’s committee agenda. The Parks Committee discusses the resolution and votes to approve and send to the county board to vote on at the next monthly meeting.
With the sale resolution on the board agenda, the committee chair reads the resolution and moves for its adoption, which receives a second and then is discussed. If needed, the department director or administrator Wehmeier will answer questions, and then a vote is taken.
In this case, the resolution is approved unanimously to transfer the land, at no cost, to Fort Atkinson. The last step is for the Corporation Counsel’s office to work out the details. Variations of this scenario happen multiple times each month.
Many of us want a better community. If that’s you, then consider serving on a town, village or county board, or city council. Besides those choices, there are a bunch of other opportunities such as Sheriffs Civil Service Commission, County Board of Health, planning commissions etc. Your contribution will be appreciated, someday. Maybe.
Finally, primer, in this sense, rhymes with simmer. I get hung up on certain details of the English language.
(Walt Christensen is a member of Heart of the City, a group of citizens interested in maintaining the small-town character and quality of life found in our community. To find more information go to http://heartofthecity.us and find us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Heart-of-the-City-325874885646/)