By Heather Graves
BROWN COUNTY – The county board will allow in-person and virtual attendance for next month’s budget meeting in an effort to let all supervisors participate amid the uncertainty of COVID-19.
Supervisors voted 17-7 for the dual format, following discussion at the Sept. 16 meeting.
“None of us that are here tonight, especially as community numbers are growing, know what position we are going to be in on Oct. 28,” said District 4 Supervisor Lindsay Dorff. “The budget is so important. To me, all supervisors having access to the meeting is what needs to be the priority. Or we are just telling people that have a supervisor who has been exposed they are just going to be unrepresented for the budget that year. And to me, that is completely unacceptable.”
The board has held in-person meetings at the Resch Center since July after supervisors voted to forego virtual meetings June 17.
District 24 Supervisor Richard Schadewald said he brought forward the request for the two-prong option to accommodate everyone.
Currently, the county spends approximately $1,300-$1,900 each month to hold in-person meetings at the Resch Center.
Adding the virtual component is estimated to cost around $6,300 per day.
Some supervisors said the cost is too steep.
“I look at the expense that we are potentially going to spend, to me from a business standpoint, not an emotional standpoint, I personally can not justify that,” said Pat Buckley, board chair. “I want to see everybody here. I don’t want to see anybody get sick. There is that potential that people are going to get sick in here. It’s gonna happen. Some people may already have been sick. Even before COVID, we had people not come to meetings because they were sick, and we did not do it virtually to accommodate them. I know this is a budget meeting and we are all trying to make sure to be there, and voice our opinions. But, we are paying for more than reasonable accommodations already.”
The board has seen hiccups in supervisor attendance due to COVID-19.
Due to health concerns and doctor recommendations, District 6 Supervisor Kathy Lefebvre has been attending the meetings from a skybox at the Resch Center.
“I am up here, but I really don’t feel like I’m part of it (the meeting),” Lefebvre said. “I can’t see you. I can’t see when someone is going to speak. I believe I was yelled at for interrupting at the last meeting because I was trying to be recognized to speak, so now they gave me this flashing light. I’m in the audience. I’m not really a participant, in a way. I have to be up here. I have to be away. Just being in this big building doesn’t make you safe. I think this is ridiculous. Stop being selfish. You are supposed to think about others on this board. I am just as important as the rest of you.”
District 14 Supervisor Joan Brusky hasn’t attended a meeting since the board moved back to in-person meetings due to concerns over the coronavirus.
Brusky listens to the meetings through the phone, but is unable to comment or vote.
“If you guys want to hide behind, ‘I don’t want to spend $6,300,’ OK, but to have in-person meetings you’re already spending way over $6,300,” Schadewald said. “Way over. So understand that the cost isn’t free to do this. Every month, we are spending money to do this. And we are going to continue to spend money. My point is, for one meeting out of the year, for the budget meeting, I would ask that you support allowing all the supervisors. You don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Others echoed the uncertainty COVID-19 brings.
“I absolutely agree with our fiscal responsibility when it comes to the budget,” said District 19 Supervisor Cassandra Erickson. “But I will be completely honest and transparent. You can’t put a price on my vote. Because we are in a state of emergency, if one of us is quarantined, I would still want you to have a vote.”
Supervisors Dorff, Erickson, Schadewald, Megan Borchardt, Amanda Chu, Devon Coenen, Norbert Dantinne, Pat Evans, Tom Friberg, Pat Hopkins, Emily Jacobson, Dave Landwehr, Lefebvre, Thomas Lund, Tom Sieber, Ray Suennen and John Van Dyck voted in favor.
Supervisors John Vander Leest, Buckley, Randy Schultz, Tom Peters, Dave Kaster, Keith Deneys and Jim Murphy voted against.
Specifics on if the public will have a virtual option is not yet known.
Energy commission resolution
A resolution looking to establish the Brown County Energy Commission is headed back to committee.
Suennen provided supervisors with an alternate version of the resolution prior to the Sept. 16 meeting.
The majority of the board wanted the committee to review the new proposed language before it votes on the resolution.
“I don’t like getting things put on my desk of alternates at the last minute,” Dantinne said. “With that said, I would really like to review this a lot more and send it back to the committee to go over all the changes that were just made.”
The Planning, Development and Transportation Committee will review the changes as its meeting next month.