Walworth County Government Today: Leadership students spend day studying county government

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Dave Bretl | February 29, 2016

Walworth County recently hosted the 2016 class of Leadership Walworth. On Feb. 19, a dozen students participating in that program had an opportunity to meet some of the leaders in Walworth County government and see firsthand two of the many important programs that we run.

Leadership Walworth was developed by two county residents, Edgar “Skip” Mosshamer, a management consultant, and David Frost, a business professor at Aurora University. Its purpose is to hone the leadership skills of professionals currently working in business, government and nonprofit agencies throughout the county. In addition to making them more effective in their jobs, a goal of the program is to inspire graduates to contribute their leadership skills to their communities, churches and charitable causes.

Daylong meetings are held once each month at various locations in the county.  Past sessions have been held at VIP Services Inc. in Elkhorn, the Innovation Center in Whitewater and Gateway Technical College. I wrote about Leadership Walworth last summer when students in the inaugural class spent some time at the county's government center. Those students have graduated from the nine-month program, and a second class began in January. The itinerary for the students' most recent visit included the following activities.

• Treatment courts. Our day started with a panel discussion examining the county's treatment court initiative. For the past several years, Walworth County has run an operating while intoxicated (OWI) treatment court. In 2014, a version was started for nonviolent drug offenders. Sheriff Kurt Picknell, Judge David Reddy and Nicole Heinrich, a supervisor from our Walworth County Health and Human Services Behavioral Health Unit, provided their perspectives about the programs and answered students' questions.

Both treatment courts provide intensive therapy designed to break the addiction, either to alcohol or drugs, that landed them in court in the first place. An important philosophy of the program is that its various components are evidence-based. This means that it incorporates the best practices of numerous treatment courts that have been operating throughout the country for the past 20 years. The resulting programs have been statistically proven to reduce recidivism when compared to the traditional criminal justice model. The program is not easy to complete. It can take well over a year for a defendant to finish the various milestones. While our drug court is still too new to have produced statistically significant data, results from the OWI court are encouraging.

• Jail tour. Next up was a tour of the Walworth County Jail. Sheriff Picknell and two of his jail superintendents, Howard Sawyers and Steve Sax, led the group through the facility. Corrections is one of the most expensive and complicated programs run by the county and presents leadership challenges on a daily basis. One eye-opener for the participants is the wide variety of prisoners housed at the facility. Some defendants awaiting trial may be facing a life sentence, while other inmates may be in jail for writing bad checks. It is the sheriff's responsibility to ensure the safety of inmates and correctional officers. Like treatment courts, there is a science to corrections. Classifying the inmates based on the risk they present is an integral step. As a facility that is open 24 hours per day every day of the year, the jail operates as a city within a building. Food service, laundry, medical care and educational programming are provided within the facility.

• Community Café. Following the jail tour, we moved to the government center in downtown Elkhorn. Students had the opportunity to meet four leaders in county government. Dave Weber, a county board supervisor, attended the session as well as department heads Michael Cotter, our land use and resource management director; Dale Wilson, our human resources director; and Eric Nitschke, who recently assumed leadership of our public works department. Students moved from table to table conversing for 15 minutes with each leader. At the end of the session, they compared notes on the leadership issues that they had discussed.

• County board meeting. The final exercise of the day was a mock county board meeting. The sole topic on the agenda was whether the county should go on record supporting an optional half cent sales tax to improve transportation infrastructure. I had written about this topic in a recent column. The proposal would have allowed the county to pose a referendum to voters to levy the additional tax, which would be split with towns and municipalities. Even though the actual enabling legislation died in the State Assembly the day before our meeting, our mock county board provided students with some firsthand experience serving on a deliberative body.

A requirement for graduation from the program is the design and implementation, by students, of a “capstone” project designed to improve the community. The inaugural class took on a number of ambitious projects, including a program to promote leadership in the county's high schools.

Leadership Walworth is hoping to get a third class off the ground later this fall or in early 2017. The class requires the commitment of the employer and employee. I would encourage any business, government or nonprofit organization that might be interested in sponsoring a student to attend the next cohort or call Skip Mosshamer at 262-607-0736 for more details.

Dave Bretl is the Walworth County administrator. Contact him at 262-741-4357 or visit www.co.walworth.wi.us.

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