Why Small Local Government Matters

One of the many hats I wear is that of Chairperson of the Goose Lake Watershed District (GLWD).  The GLWD is a small governmental body which has 5 members, 3 of whom are elected by the 157 property owners in the watershed district, 1 is appointed by the Town of Jackson, and one is appointed by Adams County.  We have the power of taxation and those taxes bring in about $18,000/year.  Those funds are used for the care and maintenance of Goose Lake, including combating invasive species, weed control, aeration, and beach maintenance.

The GLWD was formed about 4 years ago when it became clear that neither voluntary efforts nor other, larger governmental units, were maintaining the necessary environmental quality of Goose Lake.  Last summer, after watching the GLWD’s initial success, I decided to put my hat in the ring when a vacancy opened up, and I was unanimously elected Chair at the annual meeting.

The GLWD operates remarkably free of partisan politics, as we all have the same goal in mind, improving the quality of Goose Lake for all to enjoy.  One of our biggest challenges involves how to deal with the privately owned Gilligan’s Island which has a deteriorating boardwalk and bridge leading from the mainland to the island.  It presents unique challenges because there are 17 co-owners of the island and it cannot be sold without all owners agreeing to its sale.

To deal with this challenge, the GLWD sent a survey to the island owners and discovered that they were also frustrated by the island’s deteriorating condition.  After the survey results were in, the GLWD invited the island owners to a meeting to discuss how the GLWD could potentially buy the island and fix or remove the deteriorating boardwalk and bridge.  While this process is far from concluded, these initial cooperative steps show promising signs as we agreed to put together a committee to develop a plan to improve the island.

At its last meeting, after much investigation, the GLWD also signed a contract to buy a used lake weed cutter, which over time will allow us to maintain the lake in better condition for less money.

While the GLWD is strictly non-partisan, it does not mean that it does not express its views to the Wisconsin legislature.  Earlier in the Wisconsin state budget process, we wrote our legislators and sought restoration of state funds for lake conservation staff. Our State Senator, Luther Olsen, sits on the Joint Finance (budget) committee, and agreed with our position, and successfully restored that funding.

At our last meeting, we agreed to write Gov. Scott Walker to request that he veto the policy provision which is in the budget recently passed by the legislature that eliminates the right of citizens and Lake Districts such as GLWD to challenge high capacity well permits.  I just sent that letter to Governor Walker and I hope it influences his decision in favor of vetoing this non-budgetary anti-environmental provision.

The GLWD is an excellent example of how a few dedicated citizens can have an important impact at the local level.  Policymakers would be wise to support the success of local governmental units, rather than limiting their ability to succeed through unnecessary restrictions.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.