(as published in the Woodbury Bulletin 7/7/10)
With the arrival of warm summer weather, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with literally thousands of fellow Woodbury residents on a variety of topics. We live in a great city; civic pride was certainly reflected in our dialog. Unquestionably, the one subject that I’m asked to describe most often are the roles and responsibilities of a county commissioner. The duties of a county commissioner are varied and often involve meetings and discussions not obvious to constituents. To be as open and transparent as I can to my constituents, I regularly post my activities via the social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Below is a general explanation of my regular duties for taxpayers to have a better understanding of the process of county government.
The best known activities of a county commissioner are the public meetings held by the County Board. Residents are always welcome and encouraged to attend public meetings, such as those conducted by the Washington County Board of Commissioners. When they arrive at the weekly meeting in Stillwater, it is to find an agenda set out for the business at hand and a series of policy questions that need to be answered by the elected officials. But acting on that agenda and answering those questions are often the culmination of deliberation that occurred among advisory groups and joint powers boards, including publicly noticed workshops, which are also a part of a commissioners’ “to-do” list each week. While the elected members of the county board take official action during the board meetings, often the ground work and debate takes place during public workshops and citizen advisory committee meetings prior to official board action.
Our tasks go beyond the hours we spend in our role meeting as a county board. In addition, commissioners are part of several joint powers groups; official bodies created by individual boards working together for a common goal across jurisdictions to meet state and federal mandates at reduced costs for taxpayers. Commissioners publicly share the information gathered and action taken by those bodies during board meetings. The metro-wide commissions, such as the Metropolitan Emergency Services Board, the Solid Waste Coordinating Board and the Metropolitan Mosquito Control District board (MMCD), are governed by a board of elected county commissioners, each representing their respective county boards to set yearly budgets, develop policy and oversee district operations. Counties included in the MMCD are Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott, and Washington. We have worked collaboratively as a board to reduce the MMCD budget for the past two years. I am completing my second year representing Washington County on the full MMCD commission, while Commissioner Myra Peterson from District 4, serves as Chair on the Executive Committee this year.
The county itself has about 20 advisory committees with at least one county commissioner who serves as liaison to the county board. In the case of the Law Library Board, I serve as a voting member of the group and advocate for services that benefit the taxpayer, such as the free Legal Advice Clinics coordinated by the Law Library for our residents.
Lastly, county boards have little autonomy in what services we provide to our constituents; we are an administrative arm of both the state and federal governments. Most of our flexibility is in the amenity services provided by counties, such as parks and libraries. However, Washington County has worked diligently for years to implement ways to cut department costs and find operational efficiencies resulting in streamlined delivery of high-quality core services at an affordable tax rate. As we collectively face unprecedented economic times, I remain confident in the skills, knowledge and dedication of my fellow board members as we work together to find cost-effective solutions for our taxpayers during what will likely be a challenging year of decision making.
Lisa Weik, Washington County Commissioner, District 5 – Woodbury