A Minocqua elector put the elected town treasurer on the hot seat at the annual meeting Thursday, April 20, but in the end, even he voted against his motion to make the position an appointed post.
At annual town meetings, residents can bring up matters to be voted upon from the floor. Tom Handrick did just that – seeking to have the town board appoint the town treasurer rather than as an elected post. Handrick justified his motion by saying that Treasurer Laura Mendez has taken a full-time job (since last October) at the local high school, and is not in her office when town offices are normally open. “I think it’s unfair to taxpayers that during the hours that the town office is open that the town treasurer is not available,” he said. Years ago, the town treasurer held office hours Monday, Wednesday and Friday, he added. Mendez has been town treasurer for the past 20 years.
The post currently carries a $19,000 annual salary. “It’s my understanding that other staff is doing a lot of her work,” said Supervisor Sue Heil. Town Chairman Mark Hartzheim chairman concurred, saying other office workers are shouldering some of her workload. Hartzheim said the town office prides itself on providing quality service, adding, “It’s important to have people here during the day to help taxpayers.” He pointed out that because the treasurer is an elected post, the town board couldn’t set those office holder’s work hours. Mendez said she comes to the office every night after her school hours to complete her treasurer responsibilities, including recording receipts, returning phone calls and e-mails. As to her treasurer work hours, she said later: “I’m probably here (in her office) two, three hours every day (after school lets out). “I have not had one person in my voice mail yell at me, crab at me, say anything detrimental. Other than for the fact ‘thank you very much for getting back to me.’”
Hartzheim wasn’t ready to support Handrick’s motion, saying the matter could be brought up at future budget meetings or annual meetings. He suggested waiting a year and evaluating the situation then. It also appeared the board wanted more information about making it an appointed post. Any move to do that, however, would not take place until after Mendez’s current 2-year term of office. The board could dictate the office hours for an appointed treasurer, according to the town attorney. The board briefly discussed making the post a part-time position, or adding it to the town clerk role or her deputies.
Town Clerk Roben Haggart said the treasurer duties could “easily be done on a part-time basis.” The vote was heavily against Handrick’s motion: 20-1, with even Handrick voting no. “I think it’s a good idea to wait and see how the situation works out in the next year,” he said after the meeting. But he predicted “the treasurer’s part-time help budget will be depleted.” The 5-member board and nine department heads and elected officials comprised the majority of the voters that night.
That was the second legislative effort of Handrick’s to fail that night. On a 10-7 vote, the electorate voted against his motion to keep the town supervisor election a “numbered” election. In such elections, challengers declare themselves against one candidate, rather than for the office at large. Hartzheim said the change to numbered seats from at-large took place at the 2006 annual meeting. Since then, Hartzheim said he has changed his feeling about the process. He believes now that the numbered seats arrangement actually discourages people from running for office, most notably when the incumbent is well known to that potential candidate. Handrick favors the numbered seat because it allows voters to target a “bad egg” in office, without having the other candidate (2 supervisors are elected per election cycle) thrown out inadvertently. Supervisor Sue Heil said numbered seats could unfairly require a challenged incumbent to spend money for advertising in the primary and general election, while an unchallenged incumbent could avoid that expense. Minocqua apparently is the only town in the area to conduct supervisor elections by numbered seats, according to Hartzheim. The motion by Hartzheim to change to at-large elections passed 12-6. (Some people abstained.) The change will take place in February of 2018 if there is a primary. If not, it would then take effect at the following spring election.
In other matters, a scheduled vote on acquiring a small parcel from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for $5,890 was not acted upon after Hartzheim said Oneida County will convey a nearby parcel, 100 feet by 300 feet, to the town at no cost. ATVers will use that parcel located off Manhardt Road to park their trailers.