There’s no official training program for county officials in Wisconsin, but Cooperative Extension’s Local Government Center (LCG) offers the next best thing.
Partnering with the Wisconsin Counties Association (WCA), the LGC hosts the County Officials Workshops, or COWs, in May, every other year, after county elections. Since the series began in 2002, 1,658 county officials have participated in the one-day workshops. This year, workshops were presented at seven locations.
Supervisor Ron Nye has been on the Langlade County Board for nearly a decade. This year, he brushed up his county official knowledge at the COWs in Minocqua.
“It’s a good refresher. I could find out, ‘Hey, I’ve been doing this right,’ or ‘No, I’ve gotta change something.’ You fall into a rut,” Nye says.
LGC specialists and WCA staff lead sessions on top priorities for county officials — some of which may have changed since the last election. Sessions include information like different forms of county governments and their structures, a primer on county budgeting processes, and complying with open meetings law. And that was just this year’s morning agenda. The rest of the day included state public records law, ethics and conflicts of interest, the nuts and bolts of what county governments do and an update on state and county issues in Wisconsin.
“The passion that these presenters have [for local government topics] stood out,” says Nye.
Attendees are also drawn by the chance to meet with area county officials.
“We do actually have some groupies who have been on the board for quite some time and they tend to come every other year to learn what’s new, as well as to network a little bit,” says Chuck Law, LGC director. “It’s an opportunity to rub elbows with your peers on the county board and others throughout the region.”
The LGC works to strengthen county government through collaboration, capacity-building and helping local government officials comply with state and federal laws and regulations.
“Often, a unit of government will think their challenge is unique, but by talking to their peers, they find out that others have already dealt with this issue. Networking becomes very important,” says Law.
County-based Cooperative Extension educators and specialists are also welcome at the COWs. Many of these staff work with county officials regularly, so they also benefit from understanding county governments and their functions and practices.