Thanks for the opportunity to serve

Mo, Jerry, Bern and meMy time serving on the Brown County Board is coming to close, and I just wanted to say “thank you” to the people of District 19 for electing me twice to be your representative. It has been an incredible honor to serve as a County Supervisor, and before that as an Alderperson for District 2 in De Pere.

My favorite part of both these jobs has been the interaction with all of you in the community, when I had the chance to listen to your ideas, questions, and needs. Whether it was in person, by phone, or through electronic message, I have always been glad to hear from you. You’ve taught me many things, made me aware of what’s happening in our community, and cemented my belief that we function best when everyone is involved and has a voice in our government. I’ve always felt privileged to represent the views of my constituents and to be a voice for many in our community who are struggling.

For example, when the County Board voted to increase funding for mental health services last fall, I was a glad and vocal supporter of that effort. And I’ve been lucky to still be on the Board and Human Services Committee this winter and early spring, when we gave the final approval to spend some of those funds to support a mobile crisis team, a day report center, and the provision of detox services. These are vital services that will make a practical and positive difference throughout our community, including for the people of the 19th district. I hope you will continue to follow this issue, to make sure the money is spent wisely, and to support even more efforts to address this important community need.

I also want to thank the staff members of Brown County and De Pere. Government workers have gotten a bad rap in recent years, and from my experience, I think that is undeserved. The vast majority of them do their jobs well and see it as a service to the community. I have been grateful for the support and information they’ve shared with me so I can do my job. So, if you get a chance, hug a public sector worker… or at least tell them “thanks” for the work they do!

Finally, I want to wish the new District 19 Supervisor, Jim Kneiszel, well in his duties. He’s already served as a De Pere alderperson, and I know he’ll use his experience, insight, commitment and hard work to do right by his constituents and the people of Brown County.

Take care, everyone, and I hope our paths cross again. Please know that you’ve left a deep and positive mark on my life, and for that I will always be grateful.


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Supporting Increased Investment in Mental Health

counselingThe Human Services Committee for the County, on which I serve, recently approved $1.15 million in additional spending for 2016 to increase mental health services in the community. The vote to approve was unanimous, and I was very happy to support it. This Wednesday, the full board will be considering the 2016 budget, and this proposal will be a part of that. I plan on supporting this investment at that time as well.

The proposed spending includes:

  • $300,000 for transitional residential treatment services (for example, to support people coming out of the jail who need mental health treatment);
  • $200,000 for a mobile crisis unit (to bring mental health services TO the people needing them in acute situations);
  • $300,000 for alcohol and drug detoxification services (which the County used to provide but not longer does, creating a huge service gap in the community – see my blog posts below for more information); and
  • $350,000 for a day report center (instead of nonviolent people sitting in jail, with the center providing access to an array of services including mental health services).

These are all services that many other communities provide but Brown County does not provide, or at least not adequately. The County would contract for some or all of these services with other providers in the community, much as we do currently with many of the efforts we fund.

The primary reason for supporting this package is that we have a responsibility to care for our brothers and sisters in Brown County and to do what we can to help them move towards independence. In doing so, we give them a chance to give back to and share their gifts with the community. I’ve personally witnessed many folks who are recovering from mental illness or addiction turn around and help others in the same situation.

But there are many other reasons for supporting this investment in mental health. The Brown County Jail is at or near capacity, and the cost for adding additional capacity could run into the tens of millions of dollars, not to mention the ongoing added cost of staffing and operating this increased facilities. It makes fiscal sense to take the pressure off our jail, where up to one-third of the people (by some estimates) deal with a mental illness. If we can provide better mental health services as they re-enter the community, we can lessen the chance they’re return to jail and thus reduce the jail population.

Support for this investment has been growing, with many residents and groups speaking at County Board meetings in support, and I’ve received emails also supporting the package.

The county has lowered property taxes or held the line on them for four straight years, and I’ve voted for flat or reduced budgets since I’ve been on the County Board. Depending on what the Board does with the proposed budget for 2016, this mental health package could be partly or completely funded by an increase in property taxes, up to $.06/$1000 of property value. I realize that many people are against an increase in taxes of any kind. I can understand that – I don’t want to pay increased taxes any more than anyone else does. However, I believe the time has come for us to invest more in the health of our people, which will pay dividends for everyone.

If you want more information on these issues, and the work I’ve been doing over the last year-and-a-half on these concerns, here’s a listing of my past blog posts on mental health and addiction services:

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Work on a southern bridge continues

Claude Allouez bridgeCity, village, county and state legislators from Brown County as well as representatives from other local organizations met recently to continue working on development of a southern bridge. As we were reminded by County Executive Troy Streckenbach, the capacity of the De Pere bridge has already exceeded its limit, so adding a southern bridge will help relieve the pressure on the Claude Allouez bridge and lengthen its life. The message from the Co. Executive to our state legislators was… we need your help to get support from Wisconsin’s Department of Transportation. Once the project secures approval from the state DOT, then the Brown County coalition can go after federal approval and funding.

Here is the power point that the Mr. Streckenbach shared: Southern Bridge Project Presentation 1 – September 2015

Let me know if you have any questions about this or any other county business.

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Listening session this Saturday, Sept. 12th, 8-10 AM

community forumI and De Pere City Council Alderperson Jim Kneiszel will be holding a listening session this Saturday, September 12th, 8-10 AM at Great Harvest Bread Company, 802 George St. on De Pere’s east side. Everyone is welcome to come with questions, ideas, or concerns. The county budget for 2016 will soon be considered by the County Board, and I’ve been working a great deal on mental health issues in our community, so there’s a lot to talk about. And I’m sure Jim will be happy to hear what you have to say concerning City Council business. As always, of course, please feel free to contact me directly with anything that’s on your mind.

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Making our community better for elders and all of us


Devon Christianson, ADRC Director, co-host of the workshop (along with Judy Knudsen, UW Extension office Director)

Yesterday morning, I attended the workshop, “The Age Wave is Coming – Are You Ready?” Sponsored by our county UW Extension office and Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC), the event gathered around 80 people to learn more about creating an “aging friendly” community. It was a great event with lots of good information and ideas, and a call to action that will make our community better for everyone. Here are a few interesting statistics:

  • In 2010, 11.6 % of Brown County residents were age 65+ (28,789 people).
  • In 2035, that number is expected to grow to 21.4%, almost doubling.
  • We think of Florida as a state with a lot of elders (over 17% age 65+ right now), but in 20 years we’ll have a much larger percentage of elders than Florida has today.
  • Most people “age in place,” meaning that the folks who are living here and growing older here will be here for the long term.

All this calls us to get ready and make our community an “aging friendly” community. That DOESN’T mean an aging population only presents challenges – there’s a lot of blessings there, too, in wisdom, experience, time to devote to the community, etc. But our community has to purposeful in how we prepare for the challenges and blessings.

One of the exercises we went through during the workshop was to brainstorm impacts and ways to address those impacts in thirteen areas:

  • Housing
  • Transportation, accessibility, and parking
  • Sidewalks and pedestrian crossings
  • Community and health care services
  • Family caregiving
  • Nutrition and wellness
  • Arts, culture, and lifelong learning
  • Employment and workforce development
  • Public safety and emergency planning
  • Respect and social inclusion
  • Community connectedness: civic engagement and volunteering
  • Taxation, finance, and protection against fraud
  • Community leadership and intergenerational collaboration

Among the ideas generated were some of the typical ones (e.g., making sure our elders can afford to stay in their homes and get the necessary health care to live independently for as long as they’re able). But other ideas were ones I never had considered before, for example, making sure the crosswalk and stoplights allow enough time for someone walking a little slower to get across the street.

We also looked at qualities of aging-friendly communities from an article by W.H. Thomas and J.M. Blanchard:

  • Inclusive
  • Sustainable
  • Healthy
  • Accessible
  • Interdependent
  • Engaged

As I thought about this list, it struck me how, really, these are qualities that EVERYONE would want in their community. The good news, then, is that preparing our community for an aging population means making our community better for everyone.

Thanks to Judy Knudsen, director of our county’s UW Extension office, and Devon Christianson, director of our county’s ADRC, for co-hosting the event. Both of those organizations are wonderful resoures for our community, and yesterday was another example of that!

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“We the People” make all the difference

speaking at meeting“We need good people in government.” “We need good women and men to run for office.” I hear those phrases, or some version of them, quite often… I even say them myself when I’m asking someone to consider running for office. It’s true that we do need good folks to serve the community in this way, but what’s even more true is that we need ALL of us to be involved in what our government is doing, and that means more than voting. It means being aware of what’s happening in government and making our voices and opinions heard.

I was reminded of that truth again this weekend. During the celebration of our country’s birthday, people across Wisconsin were raising their voice in protest over the gutting of our state’s open records law. It was heartening to see so many people and organizations join the movement and call on our governor and legislative leaders to take these harmful provisions out of the state budget.

Lo and behold, it worked… at least for now. Governor Walker, the leader of both legislative chambers, and the co-chairs of the Joint Finance Committee have announced they’ll take the changes out of the budget, but they also announced that they’ll form a committee to study what changes might be made to the open records laws in the future.

Unfortunately, the issue doesn’t seem to end here. We need to make sure these proposals do indeed come out of the budget, and we need to keep an eye on what this future committee will recommend. But that’s just a reminder that constant vigilence is important – we the people need to always be engaged with what our government is doing. I’m a strong believer in good government, that we can work together as a people and make our community better. But as this latest round of legislative shenanigans show, that’s often not the outcome.

Together, we need to keep watch on what’s happening and get involved to support good actions and to prevent harmful ones. That’s true for the County Board that I sit on as well as every other level of government.

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An attack on open government that must be stopped

typingYesterday, at its final meeting on the state budget, the Joint Finance Committee voted to gut Wisconsin’s Open Records law, removing the public’s ability to know what’s happening or did happen when legislation works its way to becoming a law. The change not only affects what happens at the state, but also what records are available from local governments, like the Brown County Board of Supervisors.

These changes in the open records law were a surprise addition to the state budget, and weren’t available to the public until they were voted on and approved yesterday. No public discussion about these changes, not public warning they were coming. Plus, non-fiscal policy changes like this have no place in a state budget. At the very least, these changes should be removed from the budget bill and considered on their own merit as a separate bill.

It is ironic that on the eve of our nation’s birthday, when we celebrate our freedoms as citizens, a group of legislators decide to remove some of that freedom. President Lincoln famously said, “Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.” It is hard to imagine a government of, by, and for the people when we the people are not able to know what our government is doing. It makes one wonder what the legislature is trying to hide.

Here’s a good summary of the proposed changes and how they negatively affect our state, from the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council: Action alert on Legislature’s Open Records Law attack.

I do not often advocate in this blog for people to contact their state legislators, but because this change in the law affects what happens at the county level, I believe it is important that we do so and ask them:

  • Do you support these changes to Wisconsin’s Open Records Law?
  • If so, why?
  • Would you please make a motion to remove these provisions from the state budget when the full legislature considers the budget in the coming days?

If you’re wondering who your state legislators are and how to contact them, here’s a website that will help you.

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