Sauk County committee to consider new referendum rule

October 2, 2018

A committee will discuss new guidelines for Sauk County advisory referendums during a meeting Tuesday morning.

The Sauk County Board’s five-member Executive and Legislative Committee is slated to consider a board rule that would place new timing and vote requirements on proposed ballot questions.

If approved, the rule would require that supervisors present a proposed referendum question to the board in writing no less than 120 days prior to the next election. The board would then have to approve the measure by a two-thirds majority vote for it to get on the ballot.

The potential rule change arose out of discussion over controversial referendum questions supervisors have considered in recent months.

With simple majority votes, the board has approved referendums on non-partisan redistricting, the influence of money in politics, and medical marijuana for the November election.

The Executive and Legislative Committee rejected two other proposed referendums involving gun rights, abortion, and the illegal sale of “baby parts” due to concerns about hyper-partisan language.

Critics of the approved referendums said the county only should authorize ballot questions that deal with matters over which the board has authority to act.

State law does not restrict the subject matter of countywide ballot questions, and most other counties have polled voters on state or national issues.

Committee members last month agreed that establishing a higher approval threshold would self-regulate subject matter. The county would maintain the ability to run advisory referendums on state or national issues, but only if two-thirds of supervisors agree with doing so.

If the Executive and Legislative Committee approves of the rule change Tuesday, it would go before the full board later this month. Adoption of the new rule would itself require a two-thirds majority vote, unless it is postponed until the midterm, when rule changes only require a simple majority.

Conflict resolution

Tuesday’s committee meeting also will include two separate items that are offshoots of the recent county board referendum battles.

The committee is slated to discuss and consider a proposal from Jeff Hoffman to conduct a “Board Dynamic Analysis.”

Sauk County Administrative Coordinator Alene Kleczek Bolin said Hoffman is a private consultant who has offered to help the board resolve conflict that exists among supervisors.

Hoffman also works for the county. He is the regional director of UW-Extension offices in Sauk, Columbia and Dodge counties.

Kleczek Bolin told the committee last month that Hoffman has offered his consulting services free of charge. He would meet individually with supervisors in an effort to determine whether there’s anything that can be done to help the board function better.

Longstanding hostility among competing board factions has grown since a shift in power that occurred following the April election and the advisory referendum disputes that followed.

Also Tuesday, the committee will review and discuss public comment practices and procedures from other local governments in Wisconsin.

The committee asked Sauk County Corporation Counsel Daniel Olson to research the matter in response to concerns about recent ill-mannered comments from the some members of the public at recent meetings.

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