Door County Board Votes in New Chair, Retains County Administrator Position

Leo Zipperer served as the Door County Board Chairman for 14 of his 24 years on the board. He stepped aside at the April 17 meeting, where Dan Austad was elected to the position. Photo by Len Villano.

In its first full meeting since the removal of former Door County Administrator Michael Serpe and the April 3 elections, the Door County Board of Supervisors wasted no time heading into a new era.

After swearing in the new supervisors, the board unanimously elected Dan Austad as the new Door County Board Chairman, a position previously held by Leo Zipperer. In an April 12 letter to his fellow supervisors, Zipperer announced that he wanted to step aside after serving as chairman for 14 of his 24 years on the board.

Zipperer also used the letter to endorse Austad, who had been vice-chairperson. Austad thanked Zipperer for his years of service and said that taking over for Zipperer “was like taking over for Lombardi.”

Dan Austad took the helm of the Door County Board of Supervisors at the April 17 meeting. Austad has previously served as the vice-chairman. Photo by Len Villano.

After filling its top seat, the board voted unanimously to continue with a County Administrator position after a lengthy discussion. There had been some support in recent months for reverting to an Administrative Coordinator position, which would give more power to supervisors.

The County Administrator has general administrative oversight over the operations of the county. This includes the power to appoint department heads, subject to board approval, and to merge departments. An Administrative Coordinator coordinates all administrative and management functions of the county government based on what the county board and committees instruct them to do.

Supervisor Kenneth Fisher said the Administrative Services Committee had deadlocked at a vote of 4-4 and thus had no recommendation to bring before the board.

Speaking for himself, Fisher said that he would like to retain the administrator position and “negotiate down the authority” of the position, making sure that whoever is chosen for the position understands that the board wants to be more informed of and offer more input on the administrator’s decisions.

Supervisor John Neinas, also a member of the Administrative Services Committee, said that he felt that “everyone at the meeting was trying to get to the same place, whether you come down a few notches from administrator or come up a few notches from a coordinator.” Several other Supervisors echoed these comments, while also adding that they still saw a need for a CEO-type position at the head of the County government.

Interim County Administrator Grant Thomas, who also serves as the county’s corporation counsel, explained that the duties and powers of the County Administrator are laid out concretely in the state statutes, but the board has two major checks on the administrator’s power: policymaking and budgeting authority.

“How the County Administrator carries out those duties is influenced to a great extent by the policies the county board puts in place and also the budgetary limitations,” Thomas said. “It’s a give and take.”

Supervisor Mark Moeller motioned that the board keep the administrator position and allow the Administrative Services Committee to draft requirements for the position that would be brought back to the full board for final approval. The motion also called for the committee to bring the final three candidates of its eventual search back to the full board for final approval.

After a speech by Zipperer, in which he stated that having the full board approve the final candidates for the position was an overreach of the board’s authority, the motion was amended to simply retain the administrator position and refer the matter back to the Administrative Services Committee.

This simplified version of the motion was what passed unanimously. The matter will go back to the Administrative Services Committee in May, which will draft a revised position description and launch its search for a new administrator.

All 21 supervisors were in attendance at the meeting, although Roy Englebert of District 3 was unable to act officially pending the certification of the April 12 recount of his district’s votes.