'The board has to represent the community'

A look at county board demographics

By Mike Heine/The Week

(Published Feb. 2, 2007, 9:38 a.m.)

They come from all walks of life. They have a range of ages and varied backgrounds. But who really are our county board supervisors.

The Week surveyed our county's elected legislators to obtain age, educational and occupational backgrounds. Here's what we found.

In Walworth County, supervisors ranged in age from 37 to 79. The average age was about 62 years old. There are 17 men and eight women on the board.

Three-fifths of the 25 supervisors consider themselves retired. Five retirees, however, still work part-time leaving 10 with regular, full-time jobs.

Thirteen of the 15 retired supervisors are age 60 or older.

Four supervisors age 60 or older remain employed at full-time jobs.

The career choices among Walworth County leaders range from lawyers, to restaurant owners to farmers. Some have worked in town government, others as company owners or managers and several in law enforcement.

All 25 have at least high school diplomas and 10 have college degrees. Nine others have had at least some college training although received no degree.

Incumbent supervisors here believe their diversity in age, education and working experience accurately represents the diversity of the county's 98,000-plus residents.

One said diversity is healthy since it offers perspectives from many lifestyles. Another noted there are professionals, blue-collar and white-collar workers on the board.

A third said diversity promotes new ideas. In other words, someone with an attorney's experience might look at a topic from a different perspective than a farmer and vice versa.

 

Does it matter?

There hasn't been a study that compares demographics to the effectiveness of the county board, said Jacqueline Byers, director of research for the National Association of Counties.

"It doesn't seem to matter," Byers said.

A representative survey of county board members prepared by the National Center for the Study of Counties (University of Georgia's Carl Vinson Institute of Government) in 2006 shows that 98 percent of supervisors have at least attainted a high school diploma. More than three-quarters of supervisors have either had some college training or attained graduate and/or post-graduate degrees.

Overall, males hold 85 percent of elected county positions and 87 percent of the positions are held by Caucasians, the survey shows.

The average age is 60 with nearly one-third age 65 or older.

Many officials, 38 percent, owned their own business before being elected. About a quarter came into elected government from another government job and 20 percent worked for an employer in the private sector.

More than half, 61 percent, still work while being a county supervisor. A majority of those, 56 percent, own their own businesses.

"The board has to represent the community," Byers said. "That's the makeup of the board. It should represent the community in more than one way-racially, socio-economically, educationally. That's the best kind of board."

Harry Hayes is the local government projects manager for the Carl Vinson Institute and helped coordinate the study.

"In most instances counties were created as an extension of the state government," he said. "Assuming a county is there to provide services to an entire population, then having a board represent the characteristics of a community is a greater assurance that the board will understand the issues of everyone.

Both large and small boards can be effective, experts say

Historical roots of Government.

The long-used "town system" of government.

The basics.

Links to documents used to research this story.

 

 

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