La Crosse County Board Chairwoman Tara Johnson will face a challenge for her District 29 seat on the county board.
Johnson, who has served on the board since 2000 and was elected the first chairwoman in 2011, will face Laura O’Laughlin, a newcomer to local government, on the April 5 ballot.
“I’m running again because I really enjoy my job and I want to keep doing good work,” Johnson, 53, said.
Johnson, a Rotarian and member of the board of directors of the La Crosse Promise, represents a portion of the town of Shelby. She lives with her husband, Tim Padesky, and a son and daughter.
“It is an immense privilege for me to serve on the county board for La Crosse County, and it is a job that I feel very good about doing, and I want to continue to work with the other great people in La Crosse County accomplishing the consistently good things we’ve accomplished,” Johnson said.
Johnson said she was proud of her work on the county board, in particular her role in the ongoing downtown developments, including the county’s new administrative center, expansion of the Health and Human Services building and the Lot C development by Weber Holdings.
Johnson also pointed out that La Crosse’s tax rate for 2015 was steady at $3.89 per $1,000 of property value and is projected to remain the same for 2016 and 2017, even with the phase-in of debt service associated with the reworked downtown campus. The county’s tax levy remains the seventh-lowest per capita among Wisconsin’s 72 counties.
“I think our track record is stellar,” Johnson said.
Johnson declined to comment on her opponent, saying only, “I think the voters will benefit from robust campaigns.”
O’Laughlin did not return requests for comment earlier this week, but the La Crosse County Republican Party has stated it will support O’Laughlin, along with any other newcomers to the board, with party chairman Bill Feehan saying he’s “glad” to see her challenge Johnson, and he believed it was “time for a change in our county government.”
“I will support anyone who is going to go there and conduct our county business with an open mind and to vote their conscience,” Feehan said.
Feehan, a former county supervisor, criticized Johnson’s handling of the new county administrative center deal, which he called a “boondoggle.”
Feehan was particularly appalled at the sale of the county administrative center for $250,000, saying he believed the building could have been sold for much more had it been on the market longer than 28 days.
“I think that’s a major failing in her leadership and the leadership of people in our county government,” Feehan said.
The local Republican party solicited newcomers to run against “liberals” on the county board this fall and Feehan repeated the party’s support for newcomers Wednesday.
“We’re here to offer assistance to people who may need to learn what it takes to run for a seat in local government,” Feehan said.
Johnson called the county GOP’s involvement in the race “deeply concerning.”
“If they are helping people because it’s hard work to run, great,” Johnson said. But she added that “local elections are nonpartisan, and I wish they would stay that way.”