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Supervisor wonders if downsizing legitimate

Guido: Law directs no changes until after next census

Mike Heine/The Week

(Published April. 6, 2007, 1:38 p.m.)

The battle to keep the Walworth County Board at 25 members might not be over.

Nearly 54 percent of Walworth County voters on Tuesday said the board should be cut to 11 members.

But Supervisor Joe Guido thinks he's found an opening in Wisconsin Act 100, the 2006 law that allows the board to be downsized one time between censuses.

Guido argues that the county board shrunk itself in 2002, which, according to his interpretation of the law, would make a petition-driven downsizing impossible until the decade after the 2010 census.

"It is my belief, so far in looking at it, that we would have the opportunity and a chance to challenge the downsizing in 2008 because the board downsized in 2002," Guido said.

He notes that several attorneys have told him he has a valid point.

Guido cites a limitation clause in the law that reads, in part, "if the number of supervisors in a county is decreased by the board or by petition ... no further action may be taken by the board or by petition ... until after enactment of the next decennial supervisory district plan."

According to the Legislative Reference Bureau's brief on the law, Act 100 "gives counties the authority to reduce the size of their boards of supervisors once between regular decennial redistricting."

A referendum, such as the one approved Tuesday by county voters, also can be used to reduce the board size once during that 10-year timeframe, according to the act.

The law is ambiguous enough that Guido's issue maybe should be taken to court, said Craig Thompson, legislative director of the Wisconsin Counties Association.

"It's not entirely clear," he said. "I think the supervisors have a legitimate question, and we don't know the answer to it yet."

To prevent its size reduction, the Walworth County Board would have to show that its 2002 downsizing was the one downsizing allowed during the 10 years following a census.

Deputy Corporation Counsel Michael Cotter disagrees with Guido's reading of the law.

Cotter points out that if a board changes size based on the most recent census, then that doesn't count as a mid-decade size change.

The board in 2002 shrunk from 35 members to 25 based on the 2000 census and redistricting, Cotter said.

"That was the redistricting of the board based on the census," Cotter said. "At that time, that was the only time to (downsize) ,was at the census."

Also unclear is whether a downsizing should be counted at all if it happened before Act 100 was signed by Gov. Jim Doyle in January 2006.

Thompson said Act 100 still has plenty of questions, Guido's points included.

"It is somewhat ambiguous," he said. "We don't believe it was the best-crafted piece of legislation ever."


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