Representing a few hurts everyoneMore than half Douglas County’s population lives in the city of Superior — almost 62 percent in fact — according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
More than half Douglas County’s population lives in the city of Superior — almost 62 percent in fact — according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
Yet when it comes to county government, it’s 38 percent of the population who benefit most from representation on the Douglas County Board.
We’ve long observed that rural supervisors work hard for their constituents. In addition to county board duties, they attend meetings in the towns they represent and Towns Association meetings to assure they are truly representing the interests of constituents.
Their service to those they represent is commendable.
That said, people living in the city lack representation for urban-dwelling interests on the county board.
Such was the case Monday, when the city of Superior sought a conditional use permit from the county zoning committee that would allow clay excavation from property the city has owned since 2003 in the town of Amnicon, home to less than 3 percent of the county’s population.
The city’s goal was to expedite the process because the construction season is running short, as is the city’s landfill space, and a $3.1 million project to expand the landfill hangs in the balance.
“We’ve looked at other stockpiles we have available, and material we have on site, and nothing is working out,” said Superior Public Works Director Jeff Goetzman. “It’s all too wet. It doesn’t meet DNR specifications.”
The clay soil at the Amnicon site meets DNR specifications to line a new landfill cell so the city paid the $250 application fee for the permit and an extra $500 — a special meeting fee — to get the process moving so work started in June 2010 could continue.
Even before a single person spoke, the zoning committee’s intent was clear. Supervisor Nick Baker, a city supervisor, made a motion to deny the request.
“I know the city has a great need, but also I do not wish to throw away a comprehensive plan,” Baker said. “And I don’t feel it holds to the idea of making prime land on the highway, using it for clay and a SAMP area later on.”
The city’s plan includes excavating about 171,000 yards of clay over a few years, reshaping and reseeding the area, and using it as a wetland mitigation site in the future, the latter of which Amnicon Town Chairman Arthur Amys noted is not in the town’s comprehensive plan.
What is in the plan had city officials struggling to see how the proposal ran affront to the comprehensive plan.
After all, “resource-based industry” is one option and clay, arguably, is a resource, as Goetzman and City Attorney Frog Prell tried to point out to the committee.
“They bought the land and we as a town had no say in that,” said Amys, who acknowledged the land was “for sale for a long time” before the city bought it. “The town is going to suffer from it because it’s going to turn into a wetland, and it is a very beautiful piece of land.” Amys said the town was willing to work with the city to find a suitable piece of property for the project.
That doesn’t solve the city’s urgent need at the landfill. It took six weeks to get to that point under optimal conditions.
“Here’s a couple of issues I have right out the gate,” said Supervisor Don Gerhardt of Hawthorne. “Does the lack of planning on the city’s part constitute an emergency on the county’s part? What happened there? Why do we have to have a special meeting to do this, which always puts my radar up?”
Goetzman said the city’s options were limited and both sites available were tested — the Amnicon site proved to have the quality of clay the city needs. After all, the city’s problem is weather-related, not planning-related.
“We don’t own a lot of property where we can go and dig like this on short notice,” Goetzman told the panel.
The committee wasn’t persuaded; the city’s permit was denied, highlighting a priority set by the zoning committee to defer to towns and villages’ decisions.
While that may be good policy when representing people over industry, it is lousy practice when representation is to the exclusion of the majority of county residents.
We’re not just talking about the residents of Superior. Rural trash haulers have long used the landfill on Moccasin Mike Road and the city project started last year that would have averted the need to send those haulers elsewhere at greater cost is still awaiting a solution.
City officials aren’t sure if they will appeal the zoning committee’s decision.
We think they should, if for no other reason than to hold the county board supervisors accountable to represent the majority.
The county board needs to represent the interests of the whole county, not just those of the towns and villages.
After all, in 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision — one man, one vote — to assure equal representation. The court held that districts of unequal size result in under-representation of some citizens’ interests and over-representation of others in state legislatures. Four years later, the court used the equal protection clause in the 14th Amendment to extend equal representation to city, town and county governments.
Over-riding representation of 1,155 people in a county of 44,159 isn’t equal and that needs to change.
It’s time for city supervisors to stand up and do their part to represent their urban-dwelling constituents.
Take a cue from your rural counterparts and get involved. After all, if 10 rural supervisors can represent 21 towns and villages so well, there’s no reason 18 supervisors couldn’t do the same to represent those living in one city.