Spring 2020 Candidate Questionnaire: Eau Claire County Board
District 13: Connie Russell
Note: These questions were drafted and candidate responses requested before concerns about COVID-19 escalated to their current level.
Q1. What are your background and qualifications for this position, and why are you a candidate?
I am near the end of my first term as a district supervisor on the County Board. During the past two years, I have learned a great deal about the vast array of services provided by Eau Claire County, as well as the complexities of public finances and statutory requirements. As a retired university administrator, I have the time to devote to participating as an elected official in the mission of county government. Indeed, to perform the duties of public service in this capacity, one should view the role as the equivalent to at least a half-time job. When the very capable representative from District 13 decided to retire and not run again for office, there was a need for someone in our district to step up. After talking with a number of people in my neighborhood and being encouraged to run by long-time members of the Board, I decided become a candidate in 2018. Although I have not had an opponent in these elections, I strongly feel it is imperative that I represent not only my constituency on the west side of the city, but everyone in the whole county. I grew up on a farm outside of Fall Creek, so I am familiar with the concerns of the rural population in the county and feel a connection to those outside of my city district, too. In my previous position at UW Eau Claire, I supervised records and registration operations that both served all students and faculty, but also those services for certain populations, such as Veterans education benefits. I view County services in the same way. We must consider all of the residents of our county, regardless of the number in any particular group.
When people have asked me “How do you like being on the County Board?” my reply is that it’s like going back to college and taking a full load of courses. In any given week, Supervisors must become knowledgeable about variety of issues from road maintenance, child welfare, jail operations, ground water protection, group health insurance options, zoning regulations, landfill contracts, and the pros and cons of wind energy. I am excited to continue learning and applying that knowledge in another term on the Board. In addition to general county board service, I will bring specific knowledge gained from service on the Human Resources committee, the Western Dairyland Board of Directors, the Women’s Business Center Advisory committee, and the West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission Board.
Q2. What is the County Board’s role in promoting economic development, business maintenance and commercial growth in the county?
There are a number of roles the County Board can play:
Q3. What should the County Board do to address the current budget issues and program demands in the Human Services area?
This is one of the most difficult and complex issues the Board faces. Before anything else, the Board needs to be very careful and avoid the constraints of binary thinking when sorting through the optimal solutions.
Q4. What are the two biggest issues you expect Eau Claire County to face during your term, and how do you think the County Board should address them?
1. Budget: The Board and county staff will be diving into strategic planning this next year. Available resources will be the deciding factor in setting priorities. Because levy limits constrain our “dreams” of what we could potentially do, there will be some very difficult decisions to be made around what non-mandated services could be cut or have fees increased/assessed. There are very few options for counties to raise revenue. The vehicle registration fee is already in place and we are at the allowable maximum for the sales tax rate. That means the County will have to be creative in devising plans to meet obligations within the budget limits, such as merging operational departments, or exploring public/private agreements. We will need to address short-range problems, but must think long-range. For example, we will have to consider the levels of the county’s debt service. It will be important to have input from a diverse group of people to ignite innovative thinking.
2. Employee recruitment and retention: County operations depend heavily upon its employees. There are infrastructure and equipment considerations, but ultimately, it’s the people who make it all happen. In a competitive job market, where the County must compete with private market employers, it is increasingly difficult to match the wages and benefits offered by private industry and, also, by our neighboring counties of Chippewa and Dunn. Without skilled, quality workers, the County will be strapped to effectively carry out its mission.
Eau Claire Chamber
The Eau Claire Chamber of Commerce has more than 1,200 members.