Changing the time when Oneida County supervisors conduct business has been an issue that’s popped up frequently over the last few years, and it was once again on the table at last Tuesday’s 9:30 a.m. monthly meeting.
This time, supervisor Jack Sorensen brought the issue before the board in a resolution stating that “the starting time for all regular meetings of the county board shall be no earlier than 4 p.m.” In addition to county board meetings being held after 4 p.m., he also requested that certain committee meetings be held in the late afternoon or evening, too. “This has been out there a long time on my list of things to do,” said Sorenson. “Scheduling meetings during the day stops younger people who work to serve on the county board. My issue is to allow more citizens to be part of the Oneida county board. By going to 4 p.m. (or later), it is a lot easier for people to take an hour off at the end of the day than a morning.
An audience member, Alan Van Raalte of Little Rice, agreed. “The convenience of the elected should not come at the inconvenience of the electors,” he told the board. “Changing meeting times opens up the democratic process to all.”
One concern about having meetings during the evening hours has always been the cost, mainly in overtime pay to county employees who attend meetings to answer questions and explain when an issue comes up concerning their departments. “I talked to Marge Sorensen, our financial director, and she said the cost would be between $500 to $2,000,” said Sorensen. “To me this is hardly negligible. I don’t see this as breaking the bank.”
Another concern was people having to drive after dark or in bad weather conditions, if the meetings were held at night. “I have to drive 45 minutes to get here,” said Jack Martinson, who represents constituents who live near Tripoli and the township of Lynne. “I don’t really want to be driving in bad weather or after dark to attend meetings.” But that suggestion held little sway with Sorensen. “If you have to travel at night or in bad weather, just slow down,” he said.
Supervisor Bob Metropulos thought the resolution was “too extreme.” “I think we should take baby steps here,” he said. “Let’s select high profile meetings and have them at night. To have every board meeting and every committee meeting at night is too extreme. We did this in Three Lakes and just board members showed up. But I was at the meeting where Walmart was an issue and 300 people showed up. Those are the type of meetings that would be good held at night.”
Board chairman Ted Cushing also brought up the issue of the county code. “Right now in the county code we can’t have county board meetings at night,” he explained. “I could go along with this if meetings were at the discretion of the county board chair. Committee chairs already have that option.”
Supervisor Bob Martini suggested the first of several amendments to the resolution. “Let each committee decide when to meet,” he said. But Sorensen thought that was a bad idea. “The underlying reason for this is to allow more people to serve in county government. This amendment takes that away.”
Supervisor Billy Fried thought addressing the county code was the answer. “Let’s bring this back to address the county code with different wording,” he said. “However, not once has anyone ever questioned meeting times to me. I say if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
Supervisor Gary Baier agreed. “I agree with having some night meetings and we can come back and amend the county code and that gives us a choice when we can have meetings,” he said. “If we take and mandate meetings after 4 p.m., we create an even bigger mess. This has been tried before and people just don’t show up. I’m not getting phone calls about our meetings being held at night.”
Supervisor Romelle Vandervest is one supervisor who works during the day, and also has a family she likes to spend time with, especially in the evenings. She suggested an amendment that would rotate each monthly meeting from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., but that also failed. “I’m concerned that we’re amending this on the fly,” said Fried. “We need corporate counsel to bring this back with proper wording.”
In the end, the board voted to reject adopting the resolution in an 8 to 12 vote. Tom Rudolph was absent.
In other business, the board:
• Denied a claim made by Sam Kibler, who alleges damages were caused by Oneida County employees and is suing the county for $250,000;
• Denied a rezoning petition from Jeff Bruss of Three Lakes changing a single family parcel of land to recreational; and
• Voted to eliminate one mechanic and one equipment operator position in the highway department and instead create two mechanic/equipment operator positions.