The city of La Crosse has been very fortunate to be served by an excellent city clerk, Teri Lehrke, for 24 years.
The responsibilities and complexities of that job have grown greatly during that time, and the clerk’s job now requires a great deal of technical knowledge about assuring openness and transparency when it comes to the city’s public meetings and public records, issuing municipal licenses and administering city elections, among other duties.
From our perspective, openness and transparency are crucial to democracy. So are fair elections.
In addition, Common Council President Martin Gaul says the clerk “really serves as a watchdog for the council and the mayor” when it comes to legal responsibilities.
The role asks a lot of the clerk, but state law requires very little of a candidate for the office: The person must be an eligible voter and La Crosse resident at the time of the election.
The city council is expected to vote Thursday on whether to convert the job from being elected to one that is appointed, and we think an appointed position is the right approach.
Yes, we’re generally in favor of voter control – especially when it involves policymaking roles.
But we wouldn’t ask voters to elect a police chief, a fire chief, a city attorney or parks or planning director. Those jobs require a wealth of expertise and experience.
So, why would we ask voters to elect a clerk – a role that also requires a high level of professionalism and technical skill?
Lehrke said she believes it’s the right approach given the changes in the role that she has experienced during her tenure.
“In this day and age, I think it’s better for the municipality,” she said. “They can make sure they are getting someone with the training, expertise and the knowledge of the job. I think years ago it was OK to have an elected (city clerk). Nowadays it’s just a lot more technical than it used to be.”
It’s important to note that many cities in Wisconsin have already switched the position from elected to appointed because of the expertise required to uphold the law and assure transparency for taxpayers and voters.
In order to enact the change, the La Crosse council must change an ordinance and a charter ordinance, which would require two-thirds approval.
We believe it’s the right thing for the city.