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Effort to switch County Board meetings to hybrid model fails … again

Hourlong debate undercut by bleak image of hybrid model from staff

Editor's Note: This story has been updated as of 1:10 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 3, to include comments from supervisors, audio of the meeting and more details in general.

KENOSHA COUNTY ⏤ A motion to move County Board meetings to a hybrid in-person/virtual model failed to pass yet again Tuesday night.

Kenosha county Board meeting Feb. 2, 2021, full audio

Dist. 22 Sup. Erin Decker proposed an amendment to a motion originally presented by Dist. 3 Sup. Jeffrey Gentz. Her motion amended Gentz’s to include a hybrid meeting model: supervisors who wished to attend in-person could, and those who wanted to remain virtual could as well.

Ultimately, the efforts to end the board’s virtual meeting structure due to the COVID-19 pandemic failed.

While those who wanted the hybrid model got the majority vote on the issue at 13-8, corporation counsel found that the board needed a two-thirds majority (14 votes) in order to pass it.

A failed challenge to that decision caused Decker’s amendment, and Gentz’s original motion, to die.

As a result, it’s the second time a hybrid model motion has died in back-to-back County Board meetings.

However, at least in the eyes of Dist. 16 Sup. Jerry Gulley, the move by some members on the board will have lasting effects.

“I do think it’s a bad precedent that we set tonight to vote on something, make a decision and then find a way next meeting to sneak it back in,” Gulley said.

What hybrid model would look like

While the debate and fight Tuesday ⏤ seemingly led by Decker and Dist. 2 Sup. Terry Rose ⏤ lasted hours, the image of what it would look like was, actually, quite bleak.

Gulley questions, hybrid model image

According to Shawn Smith, the county’s chief information officer, even county supervisors who choose to attend in-person would have to view the meeting on iPads in order to fully participate.

His response came after Gulley questioned Smith, County Clerk Regi Bachochin and Corporation Counsel Joseph Cardamone III on their department’s perceived difficulties in dealing with a hybrid model.

“As it relates to us attending, we would be expecting that anyone participating from the building would be on their iPad much as they are now,” Smith said. “Because in order to get the best experience for a hybrid, we would still need all of the supervisors to appear on a webcam directly instead of just the one, somewhat-distant webcam.

“So if that was the case, and we worked with supervisors and it appears everyone is able to generally connect, I’m not sure IT would necessarily have to be on-site to support the meeting in that regard.”

Clerk, corporation counsel see no difficulty with hybrid

The clerk, likewise, would have no difficulty in her office.

Cardamone also agreed, repeating exactly what a hybrid model would look like for everybody involved in his response.

“I guess it would probably be dependent at least in part on what the in-person experience is going to be like,” Cardamone said. “Mr. Smith just indicated that it would be that the individuals appearing in-person would still be on their devices. If that’s the case, then like the clerk, I would probably be able to continue to do it remotely.

“I think we’d have to make a determination as things move forward how effective the various possibilities of participation ⏤ whether it had to be in-person or virtual ⏤ would be.”

Largely missing from the debate on all sides is what that image means for any of the public who would choose to gather in the Job Center for such a hybrid-model meeting.

Ron Frederick simplifies explanation

To Dist. 11 Sup. Ron Frederick, after Cardamone’s and Smith’s statements, the picture of the hybrid model is clear.

Sup. Ron Frederick summation of debate

“Really, you’re just going to be having supervisors that want to go to the Job Center sitting in there with their iPads like we are at home,” Ron Frederick said. And I guess every other staff people are going to be on their iPads. So I guess what we’re voting for tonight is the same thing we’re doing.”

He added that he could “set up at a coffee shop someplace and do the same thing I’m doing here at home, except it’s more comfortable at home.”

As a result, Frederick questioned if the effort was truly accomplishing anything at all. To him, it appeared to only allow some supervisors to travel to the county Job Center from the West end to participate in the meeting in-person ⏤ yet still really virtually ⏤ instead of simply staying at home.

“Does that make any sense? I don’t think so,” Frederick continued. “Excuse me, but that’s what I’m here thinking. So go ahead if you want to vote yes, that’s okay. But nothing’s going to change. We’re just going to keep doing what we are. We’re going to be on our iPads.

“You’re going to be talking to us, and we’re going to be talking to you the same way we’re doing it right now.”

The debate on a hybrid model (begins at 1:03:00 in video at top of page)

While members on the board have spent months laying blame on public attendees for meeting disruptions, it was the board’s own supervisors who threw the meeting continually in and out of order Tuesday night.

Overall, supervisors made two motions ⏤ one of which succeeded ⏤ to appeal and overturn both chairman John O’Day’s decisions in the matter and Cardamone’s legal advice on the matter.

Some supervisors directed their ire at Cardamone after he advised Decker’s amendment may be out of order.

Cardamone based his opinion on the fact that the amendment made Gentz’s original motion mirror a separate motion to switch meetings from all-virtual that the board voted on at its last meeting.

An effort led by Decker and Rose approved overturning Cardamone’s determination. That approval allowed the board to move forward with considering Decker’s amendment.

Supervisors’ seeming disregard for corporation counsel

The debate among board members on the issue largely stayed firm to the usual COVID-19 precaution talking points.

However, the tone of some supervisors’ comments to corporation counsel proved alarming.

In particular, Rose ⏤ who, like Cardamone, works as an attorney in Kenosha County ⏤ made comments to the board’s legal representation that not only seemed to dismiss counsel’s opinion, but also to outright call for others to ignore it.

Sup. Rose exchange with corporation counsel; final vote

After the board had voted to approve Decker’s amendment, it also approved the final form of the resolution coming.

Lastly, it had one final vote to make in order to finalize the entire possible approval.

However, Cardamone advised the board that it may need a two-thirds majority to legally approve it.

“I should advice the board ⏤ and I should get ready to duck ⏤ that it is my opinion that, because the original resolution which suspended the rules to go to a virtual meeting format only contemplated returning to a full in-person, that moving to a hybrid model, I believe, is a new suspension of the rules and would require a two-thirds vote of those present.”

“Point of order, Mr. Chairman,” Rose quickly responded (at the 2:38 mark in video above under the subheadline). “We’ve already voted on that. We overruled your decision. That’s his opinion; that’s all it is. That’s overruled. We’re now voting on the main resolution as amended by Supervisor Decker. I don’t think I have to do that once again.”

‘We’ve heard your opinion’

However, as Cardamone pointed out and the record would show, the board did not already vote on the matter.

“If I may Supervisor Rose, what was overruled was the question on whether a hybrid model was in order to be considered by this board,” Cardamone said.

“It’s the same thing,” Rose fired back. “We’ve heard your opinion.”

General board disagrees with Rose’s opinion

However, the majority of the board did not, in fact, believe it was the same thing.

Supervisors ultimately voted 12-9 to affirm Cardamone’s advice and make the final vote only passable with a two-thirds majority.

That approval led to the defeat of Decker’s and Gentz’s hybrid model, with supervisors voting 13-8 in the measure.

Having failed to get the majority vote at 14, the motion again died on the floor.

However, given the precedent set by the board Tuesday, as Gulley pointed out, it could always come back.

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