Kewaunee County Board Chairman Weidner talks issues as he ends his 20 years in office
LUXEMBURG – Robert Weidner was first elected to the Kewaunee County Board of Supervisors in the 2000 spring election. At that time, he didn't think he'd still represent his district 20 years later, or that he'd preside over the board for most of his tenure.
"No, I think I intended to be (on the board) one or two terms at the most," Weidner said. "I have an active business, and I thought it'd be too big a commitment."
That changes after the April 7 election. Weidner decided to not seek re-election to his District 4 board seat, covering parts of the towns of Luxemburg and Red River, bringing to a close decade as supervisor. His first four years were served as vice-chairman and 14 of the 16 years which followed saw him as board chairman.
The 71-year-old said he's stepping aside for a variety of reasons, one of which is to continue to run his Weidner Hardwood Lumber business in Luxemburg.
Weidner also said it's basically time for someone else to step up to continue work on some important issues facing the county, such as plans for a new jail/public safety building, increased high-speed internet service, and water quality concerns.
"We kept having important issues come up, and I wanted to stay with the programs that were proposed until they completed their goals," Weidner said in an interview with the Star-News. "But that never ended. There's always goals, and it became increasingly competitive as for the use of time … If I wanted to do a good job, I felt I was not able to put in a lot of time to research the issues."
A previous plan for a new jail was what prompted Weidner to become involved in county politics in the first place.
"In 2000, the County Board was proposing a jail program, but the public opposed it," he said. "I wanted to be involved in that issue. The program that was proposed was defeated and put on hold. The need was justified at the time, but the scope was larger than the public was willing to accept."
Weidner noted several county projects and regulations that came to pass under his time as board chairman, including:
- remodeling the county courthouse, which didn't meet safety standards at the time;
- remodeling the former hospital building in Kewaunee into the county's main administrative offices and Human Services and Public Health Department building;
- construction of the Land & Water Conservation and Emergency Management offices and Exhibit Hall on the county fairgrounds, the latter of which is rented out for events to bring income to the county;
- passage in September 2018 of Chapter 39, the county ordinance implementing manure application restrictions on dairy farms and giving the Land & Water Department authority to respond to reports of manure spills and issue fines to violators.
"I think they're all pretty equally important," Wediner said.
As for water quality, Weidner said Chapter 39 has helped a bit, but most enforcement of agricultural and manure spreading regulations is done by the state, limiting what the county can do.
"I think we're doing a better job now through the ordinance," Weidner said. "But it's very much an ongoing effort to monitor and make sure the regulations are followed."
Weidner gives much of the credit to the supervisors with who he's worked over the years for the improvements that have come to the county. There has been disagreement at times, but Weidner said that's not only natural, but healthy, for coming up with the correct decisions.
"I have to say it's been a pretty excellent group of people elected," Weidner said. "They have a tremendous diversity of thought and opinions and philosophies, and that's what makes a good board … You get excellent debate when you have a lot of opinions expressed, and you get better decisions when that happens."
Whoever is named the new County Board chairperson will deal with the jail and broadband issues, water and tax levies. Weidner noted that much property in the county is agrarian, which carries a lower tax rate than other properties, and the levy has had minimal increases over the past few years.
"They're progressing very well, but it will still take time to get to decision making, That'll come in the next year or two," Weidner said about broadband and the jail. "…There are a lot of things we need in the county. The chairperson is gonna have to be very involved in all those issues."
Weidner said he doesn't expect to seek public office again, although he might be involved with politics in a different way.
"I want to pay more attention to legislation at the state level, working with our state representatives," he said. "A lot of these state decisions sometimes adversely affect county governments."
He'll also focus more on the lumber business and hopes to travel more; he had a trip planned to New York before the COVID-19 pandemic struck the country. And he'll help the new chairperson and board members transition into their new positions — if asked.
"I will work with the board to offer what I can to be helpful as far as advancing the jail program and the broadband program," Weidner said. "But when I'm out of office, I'll wait to be asked for advice."
As for advice in advance for the new chairperson?
"The next chairperson is going to need to devote a lot of time to the job," Weidner said, "not only attending County Board meetings but several committee meetings. That's been increasing through my whole stay in office, to be familiar with the increasing issues throughout the county. I was doing 20 to 30 hours a week, and I think it'll take more to stay in touch with all the issues coming up. And, it's a seven-day-a-week job."
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected].
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Kewaunee County Board Chairman Weidner talks issues as he ends his 20 years in office