Often, after being introduced to someone, I am asked something along the lines of….”so, you are a county board supervisor. What is that exactly? What do you do?” Some follow the question with a wink and a nod and wonder how lucrative the position is. Some simply say “great, thank you for doing that.” This comes along with almost a sigh of relief that someone is willing to do that-whatever that is. Thanks to political battles now taking place at school boards, city councils, and other governing bodies, interest in local government has grown-albeit with some notoriety. Local units of government do make important decisions about our everyday lives. Learning how local government works and getting involved can be challenging but very rewarding work. In this article, I will address the local government position with which I have had some experience —being a county board supervisor. My intent is not to provide a civics lesson but to relate, in part, why I ran for a seat on the county board and why it is important for others to consider running for this important office.
First, just a few basics. A county board supervisor is an elected official. Supervisors are elected in the spring of even numbered years and serve a two year term. All 28 Columbia County Board supervisors will be up for election in April of 2022. It is a non-partisan election meaning individuals who run are not designated as either Democrats or Republicans on the ballot. There is no salary associated with the position though we receive a small stipend for attending County Board and standing committee meetings. Supervisors are normally appointed to serve on a minimum of two standing committees. Together, supervisors form the County Board which serves as the governing body of the county and functions as the policy making and legislative branch of county government.
When I was approached to run for county board supervisor, my first reaction was What? Who? Me? I don’t know. Could I do that? Am I qualified to run for office?
I had never really thought about running for a county board supervisor position or any office for that matter, but I have been an activist most of my life; both politically and with not for profit organizations. The non-partisan aspect of being a county board supervisor appealed to me. I liked the idea of an office that is devoted to working for the common good. During my career at the University, I had many opportunities to be a part of and work with governmental bodies and committees. These experiences shaped my views on government, and I enjoyed working with a variety of people to accomplish a goal. So, I said why not! It was also at a time in my life when I was looking for a new challenge. Further, it was a role that would afford me the opportunity to get to know a community in which I had relatively recently become a resident.
I ran unopposed and won, and I am now in my 4th term. Is being an elected official everything I thought it would be? Have I made any difference for citizens I represent on the County Board? Has it all been exciting and rewarding? It will be for others to decide if I have done my job as county board supervisor well and what, if, any difference I have made. I do know that my knowledge of county government has grown substantially. It isn’t just about roads and bridges, more patrol cars for the sheriff’s office, approving zoning requests, ensuring the proper recording of official documents or approving the annual budget. Though all of those functions are vital, county government has also tackled some major issues in the last few years. For example, the opioid crisis lead to the approval of a treatment program within Health and Human Services to care for individuals with drug addiction and the creation of a drug treatment court to help those individuals recover and become productive members of society. As I have written about in a previous article, the county has approved major upgrades to recycling and waste management to better care for the environment we all share. Support for the counties 10 public libraries has been maintained. During the COVID pandemic, the county board addressed staffing for public health and secured necessary funding to establish COVID testing and vaccination sites throughout the county. Now, redistricting along with the approval of the 2022 county budget have taken center stage. These are just a few examples of the ways in which county government touches peoples lives everyday.
The issues addressed by local government are growing in number, increasingly complex and challenging. Though some would like you to believe there are simple answers, that is rarely the case. What is needed is citizens with a desire to serve the common good to step forward and participate in the decision making. County board and standing committee meetings are open to the public. (Check the Columbia County website for dates and times. www.co.columbia.wi.us) Attend a meeting and learn little about how things work and what the current issues are.
What issues are of concern to you? What experiences and skills would you bring to public office? Consider running for office. You too, can be a county board supervisor!
My hope is the recent spike in interest in local government will not be a fleeting one but will lead to longer term, active participation and more citizens seeking local offices. In my next article, I will address the process of running for a local office.
As always, I am happy to talk with you about issues at the county level and what it’s like to be your county board supervisor.
Nancy Long, County Board Supervisor-District #27