Who is on the Winona County Comprehensive Plan Committee? Are Township Officer Association (TOA) representatives, who were not appointed by the County Board, legitimate members? At its second meeting, the committee had an identity crisis to sort out. Those questions were the subject of heated debate.
The result of that debate is that the legitimacy of the TOA representatives and the board's first meeting is in a sort of limbo. "I'm not going to authorize minutes for a committee that really doesn't exist," said the committee chair. After appointed committee members, TOA representatives, and even county commissioners sounded off on the issue, the committee voted to request that the County Board consider appointing the six TOA representatives to the committee.
A article in the Sunday, June 23, edition of the Winona Post titled "Comp Plan Mix-up" highlighted the disconnect between the County Board's understanding of the committee and who showed up at the first meeting, and how staff presented the relationship of the TOA to the committee at that meeting. The County Board appointed 15 citizens to the committee, including three members nominated by the TOA. Board members were concerned during the appointment process that a 15-member committee was too large. However, at the committee's inaugural meeting, an additional five representatives of the TOA joined the committee as voting members, apparently at the invitation of county staff.
"On the weekend I read some confusing things in the Winona Post," said committee chairman Mike Flynn, who is also a township officer. "I didn't think there was a mix-up. I thought we understood where we were as a committee anyway, and now I'm not so sure," he added. Flynn asserted that at the last meeting the committee added the five TOA representatives to its body.
"I didn't see that we did that," said committee member Andy Kronebusch. Appointed committee members did question the involvement of the TOA representatives at that meeting. In response, Winona County Planning and Environmental Services Director Jason Gilman said that the TOA representatives were part of the committee. In an interview with the Winona Post, Gilman said the County Board had invited them, a claim that is disputed by at least three county board members.
"I think there was a lot of confusion," Kronebusch said of the first meeting. He added, "If we take on the five township people I have no problem, but my opinion is they have to be approved by the county commissioners."
Flynn asked County Board members Marcia Ward and Steve Jacob, who sat in on the meeting, whether the membership present at the first committee meeting reflected the board's wishes. "I would rather that you tell me directly. I don't believe everything I read," Flynn said.
As previously reported in the Winona Post, three out of four County Board members contacted stated that it was not made clear that the TOA representatives would be part of the committee. Ward and Jacob confirmed that at Monday's meeting.
Ward said she thought a separate TOA committee would provide input to the Board-appointed committee. "I know that the townships were going to be an integral part of the process of the comprehensive update, but I believe staff took it upon themselves to work with the Township Officers Association to come up with their committee," Ward told Flynn. "I don't know that I have clarification. At one time it was discussed that this is one committee, at one time it was discussed that it would be two separate committees." She continued, "There are pieces of the puzzle that are missing in my mind, but I have an administrative form of government that sometimes takes those decisions away from me."
Jacob responded, "Marica's right. The County Board did appoint the 15 members to the comp plan steering committee, but we knew all along that, by default, the townships had to be intricately involved in this because of how it turned out last time. So it just comes down to some of this is still kind of evolving." Jacob suggested that the committee make a recommendation to the County Board on whether to move forward with the 15 appointed members plus five TOA representatives who were present at the first meeting. The County Board could then approve the membership of the TOA representatives, he said.
"You're asking us to say if what we did last time was all right," Flynn replied. "We're already there; we've already moved on with the assumption that this was how we were going to intricately involve the TOA."
After some discussion, the appointed members voted 10-1 (12 members were in attendance, but Chairman Flynn did not vote) to recommend to the County Board the induction of six TOA members to the committee. Committee member Leon Bowman, who is also a township officer, cast the one dissenting vote, arguing that recommending that six TOA representatives join the committee could be seen as too many.
How many TOA representatives?
Five members of the TOA executive board were present at the first Comprehensive Plan Committee meeting. A sixth TOA representative was present at Monday's meeting. TOA President Mike Aldinger announced a desire to add that sixth representative, Mark Clark, to the committee.
Following the first meeting, Aldinger told the Winona Post that the TOA was seeking to add additional representatives; Gilman said that additional TOA representatives would be on the committee.
After Monday's meeting the number of TOA members on the committee may be definite. The committee's recommendation would cap the TOA committee presence at six representatives total, in addition to the three board-appointed members nominated by the TOA.
"I think if we started with five from TOA, that's where it should stay," Bowman cautioned at Monday's meeting. "It may appear that we're trying to overload this committee."
"Do you have a problem with six?" Flynn asked Ward and Jacob. Both said, "No."
Commissioner Ward advised the committee that the County Board could consider the approval of the six TOA representatives at its Tuesday, July 2, meeting. If approved, the whole 'mix-up' may be straightened out in time for the committee's next meeting.