Spring 2020 Candidate Questionnaire: Eau Claire County Board
District 25: Melissa Janssen and Sam Mannhardt
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 a proud Eau Claire native, North Husky and UWEC Blugold who is passionate about making a positive impact in my community in both my professional and personal life. After graduating with majors in Political Science and Spanish, I moved to Guayaquil, Ecuador for three years. I returned with a renewed appreciation for my hometown, its sense of community and natural beauty. Since then, I have served as a protective behaviors educator, youth program director, and I am currently a financial education supervisor. I’ve seen firsthand how access to community resources can transform the lives of our most vulnerable citizens, and my professional experience has inspired my service on the county board. My background has also provided me years of experience providing needed services within a limited budget. As a young professional, I bring a unique perspective to the county board. I understand the challenges working families are facing, as well as the importance of attracting and retaining our talented workforce.
I am running for the supervisor position to better represent me and my neighbors concerns on the existing board members decisions. My qualifications for the position are 25 plus years working for different customers and meeting their needs. Leading workers and training employees and other contractors to better improve cost effectiveness and project performance.
Q2. What is the County Board’s role in promoting economic development, business maintenance and commercial growth in the county?
The Eau Claire County Board’s mission is to safeguard the well-being of the county’s residents and resources. Promoting equitable economic development is one of the surest means of achieving that mission. Communities that are economically healthy are far safer than those that are not. The people in those communities are healthier and happier. Their children have a brighter future. They can afford to carefully consider how to best put their resources to use, and they can preserve more space for recreation. The County Board’s role is to provide the services, the infrastructure and the support to facilitate such growth. Businesses cannot operate without a healthy, educated workforce. Commerce cannot move forward without roads to travel on. If we cannot ensure their safety and security, industries will locate elsewhere. And when that happens, it’s our people who lose.
The county is responsible for financial well-being of the county. The roll of the county board member is to provide services aimed at protecting the public safety, health, and economic security of our residents and fostering our natural and cultural sources in a cost effective manner through innovation and leadership.
Q3. What should the County Board do to address the current budget issues and program demands in the Human Services area?
The county has few ways to generate income, and it is in the lowest quartile for property tax in the state. Reduced State funding and limits on tax increases have forced the county to rely on its limited property tax pool to fund state-mandated services. We must emphasize the negative effect this is having on our citizens to State lawmakers, and demand the creation of a funding structure that is adequate to meet the ongoing needs of the communities we represent. The financial reality is that we cannot continue to provide services in the same way as we have in the past. The Department of Human Services is making organizational, structural and operational changes to increase efficiencies. Staffing has leveled out this year, and we have seen a reduction in expensive out-of-home placements. The high demand for DHS services is largely driven by our community’s meth and opioid crisis which we must continue to work together to solve. Lastly, DHS fiscal reports must become available more quickly to allow for the prompt implementation of adjustments and better fiscal management.
The Health and Human Services must be accountable to spending – all programs must be reviewed and re-evaluated, as well as all personnel. Assistance is needed by many on the county and the county needs to provide that support role for enable people to progress.
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?
Opioid and Methamphetamine Epidemics:
Eau Claire County is a leader in evidence-based programming and has successfully reduced its jail population, but felony filings have doubled in the last decade. The vast majority of these cases are related to meth. We must focus on early intervention and target the causes of drug use rather than simply punishing users. The county recently hired a social worker who meets with justice-involved individuals to create re-entry plans. Unfortunately, many who are released still return to jail. The piece that is missing is an immediate handoff from the jail to an organization with certified peer support specialists who can provide assistance in community reintegration.
Working with residents of the Maples Mobile Home Park has been one of the most meaningful experiences I’ve had. We need to include those most affected by the housing crisis in the conversation. I believe in the power of public-private partnerships and am excited about new efforts to create a tenant and landlord resource center. The county should adjust zoning requirements where appropriate to allow for the creation of additional housing units. Lastly, we must ensure that the work we’re doing to provide access to high-speed internet for every home in Eau Claire County continues.
All departments must have a budget and be held accountable for public monies. There has been zero oversight and departments have not been checked. The facilities and equipment of the county are not being fully optimized and used. The county is and continues to waste tax payer money by not properly maintaining and using facilities and equipment. Changes to building and procedures must be enacted.
Eau Claire Chamber
The Eau Claire Chamber of Commerce has more than 1,200 members.