Another supervisor’s decision to step down will leave board with only one member who was voted into office
Turbulence has become the status quo at Saukville Town Hall, a trend that continued last week with the announced resignation of Supr. Kate Smallish.
Smallish, 81, has served on the Town Board and Plan Commission for nearly two decades.
When the resignation takes effect on July 31, the three-member Town Board will have only one person — Supr. Curt Rutkowski — who was voted into office by town electors.
At the June board meeting, Smallish, Rutkowski and Town Clerk Susan Churchill selected Don Hamm to fill the unexpired term of Barb Jobs, who stepped down as town chairman in April.
Jobs, who had been chairman for five years and also serves on the Ozaukee County Board, explained that she needed to devote more time caring for her ailing husband.
It was an uneasy departure.
At the board meeting following her resignation, Jobs offered input from the audience on a variety of town issues — drawing the ire of several residents who felt the former chairman was being given preferential treatment.
As chairman, Jobs was adamant in allowing input from residents only during the “items from the floor” portion of board agendas.
Two days after Hamm was named chairman, Churchill announced her plans to resign as town clerk. Her resignation is effective Friday, July 11.
Churchill cited frustration over the lack of support staff in handling town business.
Supervisors authorized Churchill to hire an administrative assistant on a temporary basis to bring order to decades of neglected town records, but refused to make more than a three-month commitment to the position.
Churchill’s husband, Owen Madson, the town’s chief elections inspector, was hired at a pay rate of $10 an hour for up to 20 hours a week, to develop an efficient filing system at Town Hall.
Churchill warned that Madson would quit if the position was going to be eliminated after three months.
Then, Churchill announced her last day as town clerk would be two weeks after returning from a previously scheduled vacation.
“I have enjoyed trying to contribute to the town’s well-being,” Churchill wrote in her letter of resignation.
“I would, however, suggest that this is not a part-time job, for which I was hired. My recommendation is to hire two part-time people, so that there is the equivalent of a full-time person there and there is always someone who is available for coverage of the office.”
Churchill, an attorney by profession, was hired two years ago to work up to 20 hours a week.
Smallish said the clerk’s resignation made her decision to also step down easier. Smallish has been a vocal supporter of getting additional office help at Town Hall.
In her letter of resignation, Smallish said she would continue to serve on the town’s Quarry Committee, which is in the midst of negotiating the terms the Ozaukee County Highway Department must follow to operate a gravel pit on Birchwood Road.
“I have been happy to serve the town for close to 20 years, but I now find that I need time with my family,” Smallish said in her three-sentence letter of resignation.
“I will miss the many good friends I have made over the years. I will, of course, continue to be involved as an interested citizen.”
Smallish said the demands of town official took their toll, forcing her to put off home projects and jobs restoring art.
“When you think about it, I’ve spent a quarter of my life tending to town business. I have to stop some time,” she said.
Smallish said by stepping down now, she will allow the new chairman to start the job with more of a clean slate.
“I have every confidence that the town is in good hands with Don as chairman. He is a good person and will quickly find his way,” Smallish said.
Her term expires in April 2015, as do all town positions.
Hamm said Smallish’s resignation is a blow for the town, but not a cause for panic.
“I look at this as a chance for a new beginning. We will of course miss her expertise in so many areas, but she will be just a phone call away,” he said.
The unsettling feeling caused by the recent spate of resignations in a town governed by a three-person board may seem like a call for broader representation, but that is not the way Richard Stadelman, executive director of the Wisconsin Towns Association, sees it.
Stadelman has headed the town’s association since 1987.
He said three-member boards are the rule in the vast majority of Wisconsin towns.
Of 1,257 towns in the state, all but 175 communities have three-member boards.
The towns of Belgium and Port Washington, the two smallest communities in the county, also have three-member boards. The towns of Cedarburg, Fredonia and Grafton have five-member boards.
“Our statistics show that there is a 20% to 25% turnover in town offices every year because of death, relocation, retirement or the electoral process,” Stadelman said.
“Of course, our membership has people who have been in office for 50 years, but there are also a significant number of people who step down from a town post after just one term.”
Stadelman said internal conflicts and local issues often spur town officials to resign, but added that phenomenon is no more likely to occur in towns with three-members boards.
“We have seen more clerks resigning because of the growing demands of state regulations,” he said.
Stadelman said towns have a tradition of greater citizen involvement than is often seen in cities and villages.
“Part of that is because town electors have a direct say in town decisions during annual meetings and budget hearings,” he said.
“There is a reason why, when federal officials have in-district feedback sessions with their constituents, they call them Town Hall meetings.”
Applications for the Town Board position will be accepted through July. Candidates will be interviewed on the night of the August board meeting, when a selection will be made.