Pat LaVelle

LaVelle

EAU CLAIRE — Sue Miller thought she knew what to expect as a new Eau Claire County Board supervisor but quickly learned she was mistaken.

“I stepped in thinking, ‘I know all about this,’” Miller said. “No, I don’t … It’s going to take a couple years to get the gist of everything.”

That is a common experience among former supervisors, who said they had a lot to learn before fully understanding their new roles. Once they grasped the duties, supervisors found it satisfying to work to improve counties.

“There was definitely a learning curve, which was fun,” Gregg Moore said. “It really is interesting and fulfilling to get in there and learn about county services and county operations.”

Moore was on the Eau Claire County Board from 2004-18 and was chairman from 2008-18.

Other than serving the community, Moore did not have any specific goals when first elected, which he believed was positive.

“I think it’s a good thing (to be) open-minded about the range of issues, learn the issues and then go from there,” Moore said.

Miller was on the County Board from 1991-2008 and 2010-19. She often learned about issues by asking questions.

Matt Hartman served on the Chippewa County Board from 2016-20. He also learned by making inquiries. After about a year, Hartman felt comfortable in his role and understood other supervisors.

Hartman, like Moore, didn’t run for reelection because of the time commitment.

“If you’re going to be any good at this job, you need to spend some time at it,” Hartman said.

As chairman of several Eau Claire County Board committees over multiple decades, Pat LaVelle spent significant time on the job.

LaVelle was on the County Board from 1986 to 2020. He said he did not face as steep a learning curve, since he had similar experiences as a department leader and union executive board member.

LaVelle greatly enjoyed his first 20 years on the County Board.

“I refer to them as the good years,” LaVelle said.

LaVelle said the job became less fun during his final years on the board as county debt increased and he felt camaraderie among supervisors waning.

“I dreaded (going) to the meetings when it got toward the end,” LaVelle said.

Overall, though, LaVelle ran out of a sense of civic duty and received fulfillment from his more than three decades on the board.

“I always liked dealing with people (and) solving problems, trying to make Eau Claire County a better place to live,” LaVelle said.

Former board members all enjoyed working with people from different backgrounds.

“There were opportunities available to any supervisor to get to know the 100,000-plus people (in Eau Claire County) … in a variety of ways,” Moore said. “It was really interesting and made me feel all the better about the diversity of this community.”

People often disagreed about a given topic, but supervisors quickly understood that not seeing eye-to-eye was part of being in office.

“I was a lot more of a compromiser than I realized,” Miller said. “You can agree to disagree. It’s a give and take operation.”

That made it particularly rewarding when the county board passed resolutions that accomplished “something for a broad sector of the population,” Miller said.

In Wisconsin, county boards are composed of citizen supervisors who receive small salaries and travel reimbursement. In the Chippewa Valley, board members make a few thousand dollars per year at most.

New people often join county boards, since seats are two-year terms. Miller saw the Eau Claire County board “dramatically” evolve over the years as more women were elected. She was one of about five women on the board in the early ‘90s. Now there are 16.

Moore appreciated the composition of the Eau Claire County Board, which has 29 supervisors.

“The individuals that are on the County Board are from every walk of life,” Moore said. “Some are business owners. Some are working full-time. Some are retired. Some are young. Some are old. I think it really does allow a cross-section of the community to participate.”

To aim for a better cross-section of supervisors, the Chippewa County Board will expand in 2022 from 15 to 21 seats. The expansion comes after a reduction from 29 to 15 seats took effect in 2012.

By adding more seats, Chippewa County Board Chairman Dean Gullickson anticipates it will allow for more diverse, younger board members.

Hartman supports expansion because it will result in new board members and should mean fewer responsibilities for each supervisor.

“I think it’s good that you have new people coming in with different ideas,” Hartman said.

Moore was elected seven times and received much gratification from his time on the County Board.

“I felt good that I was contributing and doing what I can,” Moore said. “I enjoyed it more than 90% of the time.”

The job could be stressful and time-consuming, however, particularly as chairman. “It’s a lot easier not having the responsibility, I can tell you that,” Moore said.

Challenges existed, but it was fulfilling “getting through difficult things, as unpleasant and as hard as they were,” Moore said. “To really get deep down in, to really agonize over a decision and make a call — I think that’s what’s really satisfying.”

Miller was elected 14 times. She hadn’t run for office before winning a seat in ‘91, but she took to the job right away.

Miller enjoyed “getting to know the nuances, the operations, the technical things,” she said. “It was in my blood.”