County Board kills proposed reduction resolution

Size doesn’t seem to matter to Winnebago County voters. County Board member Pete MacKay (R-5) said no constituent has approached him about reducing the size of the 28-member Winnebago County Board.

MacKay said reducing the County Board would “destroy” minority representation in more than one way.

He offered those observations during a debate over County Board member Eugene Quinn’s (R-14) proposed resolution, which asks voters to approve creating an 18-member County Board, at the county board’s Aug. 24 meeting. MacKay joined 20 fellow County Board members in voting no.

County Board member Bob Kinnison (R-10), Executive Committee chairman, said two-member districts preserve rural and minority representation. Kinnison also noted he’d heard no hue and cry from constituents about the County Board’s size.

Though County Board member Gary Jury (R-3) voted against the proposal, he didn’t withdraw his support until after receiving information from County Board member Rick Pollack (R-13). Pollack shared a Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WISTAX) press release with County Board members. WISTAX research showed “an increase in county board size of one supervisor (County Board members are referred to as supervisors in Wisconsin.) was associated with lower spending of $8 to $10 per resident,” according to the release.

Pollack argued that decreasing the board would mean a rise in spending. According to his calculations, decreasing the county board by one member would cost Winnebago County an additional $3 million a year. Pollack came up with the number by multiplying $10 by Winnebago County’s estimated 300,000 residents. If the County Board were reduced from 28 to 18, Pollack claimed it would cost $30 million annually or a total of $300 million until the next U.S. census. The County Board must redistrict during every census.

He did acknowledge reducing the County Board would mean $750,000 in savings over 10 years. Pollack noted Winnebago County wouldn’t be paying the $7,500 annual salary to those County Board members for a decade. Jury said he supported the proposal while it was in committee. However, Pollack’s information led him to reconsider his stance.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Winnebago County’s population was estimated at 288,695. So, using Pollack’s formula, reducing the County Board by only one member would allegedly generate $2,886,950 in spending. If the County Board were reduced by 10 members, spending could possibly increase by $28,869,500. An 18-member board could cost taxpayers $288,695,000 over 10 years.

County Board member Tim Simms (R-14) stressed the referendum gives the voters a chance to have their say. He insinuated defeating the proposal would take their voice away. Jury disagreed: “We are not holding anything from any citizen.”

But County Board member Chris Johnson (R-4) questioned the motives of those railing against the proposal: “Are we just being self-preservationists?” Johnson said the resolution only gives voters the chance to say yes or no to single-member districts.

“I would encourage you to put this on the ballot and let the voters talk. It’s not as controversial as we’re trying to make it,” he said.

Quinn, who served as Compensation and Reorganization sub-Committee Taskforce chairman, initially introduced the resolution to the Executive Committee in March. He said he submitted the resolution again May 25, after the executive committee asked for more clarification.

Quinn alleged the resolution had been languishing in Executive Committee.

Kinnison disputed Quinn’s claim that the resolution had been overlooked. He said his committee sent the resolution back to Quinn’s committee twice in search of more information. Quinn countered Kinnison’s claim that the resolution was sent back to his committee. He said the special committee was dissolved immediately after he made his presentation.

“There was literally conjecture by committee members,” he said.

According to Kinnison, the Executive Committee wanted more statistics. Jury noted there was no information regarding the cost-effectiveness of reducing the size of the board. Quinn said it was impossible to determine the cost-effectiveness of something that hasn’t happened yet. He also disputed the claim that the committee only offered conjecture.

Quinn said a map had been drawn, but couldn’t be put into place until after 2012, after redistricting had taken place. He noted board members were concerned about gerrymandering, a process in which district boundaries are manipulated for political gain. Quinn argued there’d be less chance of gerrymandering if the board were reorganized.

According to Quinn, he submitted an 18-member map, a comparison of Winnebago County with a select group of other counties, as well as University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Northern Illinois University research on county boards. The committee also included a 1973 report on modernizing the county board, which suggested the body be decreased to 14 members.

Other critics have complained that reducing the size of the board will reduce minority representation and give more power to fewer people, making it easier for special interests to gain control through campaign contributions or social pressure.

Pollack agreed: “All you’re doing is making me more powerful. I don’t want to be more powerful.”

From the Aug. 30-Sept. 5, 2006, issue

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