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Lac du Flambeau electors vote to increase town board size to five at annual town meeting

Wednesday's emergency Town Board meeting in Lac du Flambeau. The board voted to send another letter to Tribal President John Johnson.
Katie Thoresen
FILE PHOTO- People packed into the Lac du Flambeau Town Hall in February 2023 for an emergency meeting.

At the Lac du Flambeau Annual Town Meeting, Steve Klingaman, a resident, not a board supervisor, made the motion.

“With your permission, I would like to make a motion that the Lac du Flambeau town board expand from three seats to five, beginning in the 2025 election cycle,” said Klingaman in audio of the meeting given to WXPR.

Klingaman doesn’t believe a citizen motion during an annual town meeting is necessarily the best way to govern, calling it a double edge sword.

“When people just move to go to meeting packing to do the winning vote, it proves itself I think to be a rather archaic law that doesn't really work anymore,” said Klingaman. “On the other hand, it's a tool in our toolbox. We're allowed to use it. I think many people will admit that Lac du Flambeau is in a state of crisis. We need the very best governance we can find.”

The crisis Klingaman is referring to is the road easements issues with the Lac du Flambeau Tribe that go back more than a decade but came to a head last year when the Tribe temporarily blocked access to four roads that are tribal land but give access to privately-owned property.

“Governing Lac du Flambeau is complex for many reasons, but with the road easement crisis, it's far more complex than any comparable government in our range,” said Klingaman.

While that was his motivating factor in calling the motion to increase the town board size, Klingaman does believe it has many benefits including better representation and bringing more viewpoints and experience to the board.

Right now, the town of Lac du Flambeau is home to roughly 3,500 people.

While it is not a requirement, towns with populations greater than 2,500 tend to increase to five board members.

WXPR spoke with the UW-Extension Local Government Education Office about the state laws to increase the town board size. Towns need a population of at least 2,500 to make this kind of change through an elector vote at the annual town meeting.

“Towns really are your first level of government. They're supposed to be as close to representation of the electorate, or of the people, as they can. They're putting the power in the group that comes to the annual meeting to say, ‘this is what we want of our town,’” said Karl Green, LGE Program Manager.

LGE told WXPR when the electors vote in this matter, it’s direct, not advisory, meaning the town has to take action on it.

Towns tend to go to five members as their population increases because with more people in a town, the more work there is for a board.

This was brought up one elector during the public comment on the motion to increase the board size.

“One of the best ways for a community to help this town board is to have extra board members who can pick up some of those duties and responsibilities,” said a person in favor of increasing the town board size.

Others spoke in opposition to the motion. Common concerns were the cost to the town for additional board members and that it would make the town government less efficient.

“If we keep it a three-man board, you're going to get more done. All the accomplishments that you're making right now, providing your residents to move freely to and from, you are the good guys, you are not the bad guys, move to and from their houses, taking care of the town and the residents. I think, as a three-person board, you're eloquent right now and have done a great job,” said a person opposed to increasing the board size.

Town Supervisor Bob Hanson says, for him, the workload is not why he wants a larger board. He believes five members will make the town government more efficient and effective.

Hanson has been in favor of the change the entire time he’s been a supervisor.

“A three-member board is just awkward, and it allows too much decision making to be in too few hands,” said Hanson.

Hanson hopes additional board members will also lead to a town board that’s more reflective of the town’s population, which is majority Native American.

“Yet the town board has historically not represented that community very well. We do have one Native American on the board currently, but anytime you add more voices to the process I think that you're going to find that problems are looked at much more carefully and much more thoroughly,” said Hanson.

This is not the first time a vote like this has taken place. In 2017, electors voted to increase the board size to five. It was rescinded with another vote in 2018, according to draft minutes of the annual town meeting.

Hanson doesn’t think it’s going to be “waffled back and forth” like before as he believes there’s more support behind it this time.

“I would like to see a good, careful, functional board put together. It would be gratifying to me to see a group of five people who could all work together,” said Hanson.

WXPR requested an interview with Chairman Matt Gaulke about the vote to increase the board size. We did not get a response.

The electors voted 55 to 11 in favor of increasing the town board.

There will not be a special election. Hanson’s understanding is there will an election next April. The five people with the most votes will be elected to the board.

The top three will serve two-year terms. The bottom two will serve one-year terms for the first year, then it will be a two-year term so that town elections are staggered.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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