No One Running for Office in Town of Sturgeon Bay

The pending spring election has drawn more candidates than usual this year in almost half of Door County’s municipalities, but the news isn’t so good for the Town of Sturgeon Bay.

For the first time in 30 years, and likely for the first time ever, no one will be on the ballot for the chair and two supervisor seats on the board, or for the clerk and treasurer positions that are up for election.

“The April 4 ballot is going to be blank,” said incumbent town clerk Nancy Anschutz. “It will depend on write-in candidates.”

What has happened is a perfect storm of people timing out in their service. Daniel Cihlar has served as the town board chair for 35 years, and Lynn Gustafson as treasurer for 25 years. Carol Schuster and Paul Skup, who currently serve as town supervisors, are also retiring from positions they’ve spent years serving.

Anschutz ran for her position uncontested 30 years ago when the former clerk retired.

“I’ve never had competition even once” throughout all these years of elections, she said.

But with everyone stepping out, no one has stepped up.

“It’s very sad,” Anschutz said. 

No matter a town’s size – the Town of Sturgeon Bay has a U.S. Census 2020 population of 821 – the same governance responsibilities are required, including election administration, financial reports and whatever town requirements are on the books, such as dog licensing.

The Town of Sturgeon Bay is divided north and south by the canal, with a wedge of City of Sturgeon Bay land in between. It’s the only town in Door County that doesn’t have its own town hall, so government business and meetings are conducted at the Arle Memorial Hall (formerly the Knights of Columbus Hall), which the town rents.

“My clerk’s office is my kitchen table,” Anschutz said. “That was difficult during the 2020 election when they wanted to vote in person.”

Other municipalities in Door County have moved to an appointed clerk and treasurer position to avoid exactly what the Town of Sturgeon Bay is now facing, with no one interested in running for the jobs. 

The Town of Nasewaupee, for example, with its longtime clerk and treasurer set to retire, approved the move last year to appoint those positions, which takes effect this year. The town is currently in the process of hiring for those positions.

Despite the challenges that the Town of Sturgeon Bay is now facing, Anschutz said she’s not a fan of the appointed system.

“I might be a little old fashioned, but I like to see the people [who are serving] on the local town board be local residents,” she said. “They know what goes on in our town; they know what’s good for our town. That’s just my personal feeling.”

Anschutz said her position takes about 12 hours a week and pays $12,000 a year, an amount the town board recently raised from $8,500 in hopes of attracting someone. The treasurer receives $3,000 per year, the supervisors $4,000 per year and the chair $6,000.  

Write-in candidates will win the opportunity to serve, but even if people are written in, that doesn’t mean they must accept the position. And if there are no write-ins, Door County Clerk Jill Lau said statutes would require her office to get involved to ensure the town government has the people it needs to carry out its responsibilities.

“I really am hopeful that there will be people who will run as a write-in and will accept the position if elected,” Lau said. “I really am confident that we will not get to the point of county clerk involvement.”