Year in Review: Q&A with Door County Administrator Ken Pabich

You came on board on Aug. 3 and had to jump right into the budget process and deal with a couple of big projects on the county’s plate. How did that work for you? Were department heads and staff helpful in bringing you up to speed?

I think the timing of my start was truly lucky. I did a lot of research before I even started, so I came in with some ideas of what needed to be accomplished. The departments had just turned in their individual budgets so I got a chance to work with each department on the budget and also have an opportunity to get to know them. I had a great deal of support from the department heads since I asked them to explain their budget and program goals.

I also had a great deal of support from our new Finance Director Mark Janiak, and Shirley Scalish (the previous director). They were able to provide a great deal of insight on past practices and how the entire budget came together.

For the entire process, I had to dive in “head first,” but with the support of the staff and the county board, I feel that the adopted budget is very fiscally sound and puts the county in strong position moving forward.

What was the most difficult part of transitioning from planning and economic development for the City of De Pere to Door County administrator?

I believe there were a number of issues that were challenging but not insurmountable. First, the leadership that is required between the positions is entirely different. In my opinion, both leadership and trust need to be earned by how you interact and make decisions. This process will take time, but I feel that I have the support of both staff and the county board.

Second, both positions required the ability to handle multiple projects, but the scale and complexity of issues as administrator are at a higher level of magnitude. This aspect of the job has been very rewarding even though there have been a few difficult days. Many times I am collaborating with department heads and supervisors on how to move forward. It is a great opportunity to share ideas and really improve the services we provide to Door County residents.

How is it to work with the board of supervisors and the various oversight committees?

The support of the county board supervisors has been excellent. They have given me the time to learn our existing operations, and they have been supportive of taking on some changes, which is always difficult. I think having to meet with every committee as part of the budget process gave me an early opportunity to work with supervisors and understand some of their ideas for moving forward.

On the committee level, I know the board did some re-organization of committee oversight in 2014-15. I think it is excellent to see the level of involvement by the oversight committees. They are not trying to “micro-manage” the department, but they are truly engaged in how the services are being provided to Door County residents.

Any surprises along the way, things you just didn’t expect that would cross your desk as administrator?

One surprise is the opportunity to be involved with special celebrations here in Door County. I was not expecting to speak as part of the 75th Anniversary for the Washington Island Ferry, but I was honored to do it. I was also very pleased by the number of people in the county that either sent me a message or even stopped by to welcome me to Door County.

Another surprise is the amount of support that I received from people that I worked with in De Pere wishing me luck. I had developed many business relationships where I tried to help these businesses succeed. It was unexpected to receive that type of support from where I moved from.

Has your view of Door County changed after almost six months on the job?

Definitely. My wife and I have been coming to Door County for more than 20 years. During that time it has always been as travelers, now we are becoming a part of the community by attending meetings, fundraisers, sporting events, etc. It is always hard to experience change, but everyone has been very welcoming which makes it feel like home. I think as we become more settled and involved in the community it will feel more and more like we are part of community.

We have always said that we loved what Door County has to offer from restaurants, shopping, entertainment and the outdoors. Now we get to enjoy these treasures more often!

What do you see as the most pressing issues facing the county in the coming year?

We are currently evaluating the Old Highway Shop to determine if it can be re-purposed for the new Emergency Services Facility and also the Aging & Disability Resource Center/Senior Center. Depending on the evaluation done by our contractor, we should know if the building can be used and also an approximate dollar estimate for both projects. We then need to determine how to proceed with both projects in terms of timing and funding. The initial recommendation shall be made to the Property Committee in January.

Any thoughts to share on what appears to be an increasing intrusion on local control by the state. I’m thinking in particular of the shoreland zoning changes that were inserted into the state budget that restricts counties from enacting laws more stringent than the state?

I think anytime legislation is put into a budget bill, it will most likely lead to more problems. The issue is that there is no time to get input and you end up with something that was not intended or misworded. I think this has been our experience with the shoreland zoning changes. It does not matter if you are for or against the shoreland zoning changes in the budget bill, the way it was written was poor and it has created issues for everyone involved.

What I have been very pleased with, in Door County, is that we have strong representation from our legislators and they are very willing to work with us. We also have a very active legislative committee that works hard to stay in front of legislation and provide feedback to our representatives.

On a personal note, what do you like to do when not working as county administrator?

In my free time, I enjoy traveling with my family, golfing, cooking, and hunting. During the summer, you will find us either hiking or hanging out at one of the many great Door County beaches. In winter, we still enjoy hiking or snowshoeing. One other item that my wife and I really enjoy is looking for and trying new traditional supper clubs. As my kids can attest, we have driven a long way in search for the perfect steak and fish fry (our longest trip on a Friday search was an hour and a half!).

How has your family adjusted to life in Door County?

It has gone well, but at the time of this writing, we are still in the transition mode. We hope to be settled in the City of Sturgeon Bay by the end of the year. Once this is done, I think we will have more time to engage in community activities and events. What has been nice is that we have become involved in school activities with the kids, so it has been nice for the kids to meet friends and for my wife and I to meet their parents.

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