Remember a few years back when there was an effort to reduce the size of the Winnebago County Board? A resident group started circulating petitions to cut the board in half--saying it would make the Board more responsive to the voters and more efficient in doing its work. You may recall that the Board responded by passing its own resolution to eliminate just one seat--thereby heading off the reduction effort--because a change in the number of seats can be done only once in a census cycle. That vote was nothing but a finger in the eye of what we hear all the time should be "grassroots politics"--with sitting members of a government telling those they represent that "they know better". Well, it might be time to consider such an effort again.
Now that the filing deadline for candidates has passed, we find out that there will be just four contested races for Winnebago County Board again this spring. That is right around average for the 15-years that I have been covering the Board. What is growing, however, is the number of seats on the Board where there are no candidates for office. This spring, there will be four districts without a single name on the ballot. Barring write-in candidacies, that means 11% of Winnebago County residents will have no representation on their Board after April.
This is actually a chronic problem for the Board, as districts covering most of the UW Oshkosh campus and the parts of Appleton that lie in Winnebago County are vacant more often than they are filled--as no one even applies for appointment to those seats. And in the rare occasions when appointees are made, they never seem to seek re-election.
When the Winnebago County Board pulled its one-seat reduction move, supporters said that having 36-districts allows for "better representation" of the people. They claimed that more, smaller districts allow all of the towns to have a "bigger voice". But when you look at turnover on the Board--and the lack of interest in creating turnover--it appears that the vast majority of Winnebago County residents are hearing just one voice speaking on behalf of them year after year after year. Well, at least in the districts where someone is interested in serving at all.