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Podcast: Running for Office During COVID-19 with Josh Schoemann, Washington County, WI

Posted on May 1, 2020


Josh Schoemann GovLove

Josh Schoemann being Sworn In

Josh Schoemann
County Executive
Washington County, Wisconsin
LinkedIn | Twitter | Website


Becoming an elected official during a pandemic. Josh Schoemann, the County Executive of Washington County, Wisconsin, joined the podcast to talk about running for office and leading a County during the COVID-19 outbreak. The form of government changed from an appointed County Administrator to an elected County Executive, and Josh chose to run for office to keep his position leading the County. He talked about the experience of running for office and how they are navigating reopening after the shutdown.

Host: Kent Wyatt

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Episode Transcript

Kent Wyatt

Talking to you from ELGL headquarters in Westland, Oregon, this is GovLove, a podcast about local government. I’m Kent Wyatt, ELGL co founder and City of Tigard Communications Manager. Before we hear from Josh, I want to remind our listeners that you can support ELGL and Govlove by taking two simple steps. One, become an ELGL member. Two, leave a five star review to spread the great work of our guests. Today, our guest is Josh Schoemann. This is his second appearance on GovLove. Basically if you don’t know Josh, he is an  OG of ELGL and a mentor to many in local government. In April 2020. Josh was elected the Washington County administrator. We’ll talk to him today about a variety of things including running for office during the Coronavirus, resources needed to successfully run for office and managing a community during the Coronavirus. So Josh, welcome to GovLove. Congratulations!

 

Josh Schoemann

Hey, thanks, man. Great to be back. I appreciate the opportunity.

 

Kent Wyatt

So our listeners have been itching for me to ask this first question. This was a few months ago but did Jimmy Graham really get that first down in the playoff game versus Seahawks?

 

Josh Schoemann

[Laughter] It was unequivocal. The line, there was a bend in the line I did just it’s how it you know, the good Lord is with the Green Bay Packers.

 

Kent Wyatt

And I like how you, I think I made a politician stumble over an answer. So I think…[laughter] For those, for those of you who don’t know, Josh has been serving as County Administrator and just recently they went to an elected form of office. What’s the story behind the move to the elected county administrator?

 

Josh Schoemann

You have a great question. I have been Administrator here in Washington County for the last six and a half years up until yesterday, and about a year ago, my direct boss, the county board chairman came to me and said that they really wanted to change the position to elected. It had been on the, on the radar for probably 15 years at that point. I think they had tried four different times and failed. I actually had built into my contract, what would happen if they ever did that, knowing that it was eventually going to come up again. And he came to me in a really kind of a collaborative way saying he wanted to do this and he felt like it was best for the county and I ended up essentially saying, well, you know, if you can build consensus to do it, I’m, I’m not going to stop you. I’m not going to promote it either. But you know, if you think it’s best for the county, my role is to help make it happen and I’ll do that. And so that was last February, March. I can’t remember. And it was a long, painful seven or eight months, and they voted once in the month of June to do it, and it lost on a tie vote 13-13. And then, three months later, they took another vote and it passed by one vote. And then I had the decision of whether or not I was going to run. So it was, it’s been a long year. But I think, you know, the, the best outcome happened, certainly. And it’s been an interesting experience.

 

Kent Wyatt

So this may be a simplistic question, but how does your role change, now that you’re officially an elected?

 

Josh Schoemann

Yeah, yeah. I used to think it was a simplistic question too. And, and the first 36 hours has been a learning experience. Really, you know, because here in Wisconsin, this this statutory legal difference between a county administrator and a county executive is really only two things. The elected executive has a veto pen, and of course is elected not appointed. And that’s really it, everything else statutorily is the same. So, I thought, well, you know, this won’t be a big deal. But it’s been, it’s been eye opening, the whole campaign process was eye opening, talking to constituents very intentionally firsthand, knocking doors up until about the end of May or end of March, excuse me. And actually engaging them one on one. And now, being in the office, I’ve been flooded with dozens of constituent outreaches which as administrator, I mean, I rarely ever got. But I guess once you send out 50,000 pieces of literature with your picture on it, everybody thinks they know you, so they’re not afraid to reach out.

 

Kent Wyatt

Well, you mentioned you stopped door knocking in March. How did the COVID pandemic change the way you approach the election?

 

Josh Schoemann

Yeah, it was, it was a significant change. Our strategy from the beginning and really, this is kind of my strategy on everything is, you know, I’m, I’m not the greatest politician because I’ve never done it. I’m not the smartest administrator in the profession, but I, I work harder than everybody else and I try to do that and everything and, and that was really gonna be the campaign strategy was just gonna outwork, whoever the other guy or gal ends up being and, and try to run the best campaign we could and that for me involves trying to knock on 10,000 doors before our campaign, 5000 personally, and then a stretch goal of 15,000 for the campaign and, and we had already hit our 10,000 out 10,000 door number I had personally knocked just under 2500 with a month to go, and then the virus happened and, you know, we went one more weekend where, you know, everybody was kind of like, oh, there’s this new order. Maybe we need to start social distancing, but if you stand back far enough, you can still knock doors. We do that for a weekend and everybody was pretty accepting and then after that it became very obvious that this wasn’t going to work and it turned into almost exclusively by mail only and, and by Facebook Live only and substantially changed the campaign.

 

Kent Wyatt

How many doors did you make your kids knock on?

 

Josh Schoemann

I’d rather not reveal that for strategic reasons. [Laughter] They were, they were great. They helped in all kinds of ways, knocking doors was part of it, dropping literature was part of it, writing 10,000 postcards to voters across Washington County, they were awesome.

 

Kent Wyatt

On a more serious note, you know, I think a lot of our listeners or some of our listeners that run for office, some of them may be considering running for office. Give them an idea of what that looks like in terms of the resources needed everything from your time, to money to everything else that’s involved in running a successful campaign?

 

Josh Schoemann

Yeah, well, first and foremost, I have a phenomenal family. And that’s a nice segue from the previous question. My kids are great and very supportive. My wife is awesome. She helped in so many ways. Every time we’re out knocking doors, she was with me and every event we’re at, so having a, you know, good support system to begin with is essential. And then having a volunteer base, people who believe in you who really are willing to put time and effort into it. I don’t, I don’t win this campaign, if not for all of those volunteers who put countless hours in and like I said, I knocked by the time we stopped knocking, I knocked about just under 2500 doors and the campaign was past 10,000. So, I mean, you can tell there’s a lot of people that it took and sadly but true you need money. We’re a community of about 140,000 people in Washington County, there’s 20 municipalities. We’re not a large geographic area, but large enough to make it a challenge. And we probably spent about $75,000 on our campaign and you got to find a way to come up with that. And though it wasn’t an extravagant campaign, but it was it was a well done professional campaign. So money, volunteers, good support system. And then, and then good, I had hired staff, good hired staff who knows what they’re doing, makes it a heck of a lot easier. And all those things together, make it make it a successful campaign.

 

Kent Wyatt

Give us an idea of the number of volunteers that you had working for you.

 

Josh Schoemann

We probably, if you took every single person that did something, we’re probably close to 150 – 175, somewhere in that range.

 

Kent Wyatt

So taking your experience, and obviously, it was a successful one. But looking back, I’m sure there’s things that you would tinker with or might revise. What would be, what would those things be, that might be of interest to folks who might be considering a campaign?

 

Josh Schoemann

Yeah, I think the first thing is to have a good battle plan that’s worked through with a solid campaign manager early. That’s fleshed out all the way. We had some of that. But because of the nature of our of the campaign, we had the the county board approved the position back in September, which really only gave about six or seven months to make a decision, put together a plan and run a full campaign across the county of 140,000 people. So we didn’t have enough time to have as good of a battle plan as I would have liked to have, as vetted a team as I would have liked to have. And some of that was circumstantial. But I think if you have early on a good person who knows how to run campaigns, has done it before in place, and then a good campaign battle plan that you’re going to follow. Because when you get to the last four weeks, and everybody told me this going in, and you kind of like, yeah, yeah, it’ll be fine. I’ll just, you know, outwork everybody. The last four weeks is just very difficult. And of course, the virus made it even more difficult. But that battle plan becomes essential because it helps just stick to what you planned all along. And even when all these other things are coming from the other campaign, which you’ll always want to react to. You can stay disciplined. And fortunately, we were able to do that, but I think an even more solid campaign would have made that even better.

 

Kent Wyatt

So how many, did you have one opponent two opponents? What was that situation?

 

Josh Schoemann

One opponent. Yep, just one opponent.

 

Kent Wyatt

Was that somebody that was currently serving or somebody from the outside?

 

Josh Schoemann

It was actually another local government employee here in Washington county in one of our municipalities.

 

Kent Wyatt

Okay. So some of the folks may know that Wisconsin held the election, and then it was a week until you found out the results, which is crazy. What’s that week like between, was it April 7 to April 13 or somewhere around that time?

 

Josh Schoemann

Yeah. Yeah, it was. Election was April 7, a Tuesday. And the results came out on Monday the 13th. And I told myself, I’d never go back there. So I, it was, it was torturous. I mean, I’m sure for every politician, I talked to a number of them as this process went on. And it was very, the whole thing was very controversial, including the decision to wait six days to release the decision, and everybody was very anxious. But, you know, for me, the unique nature of running this race was if I lose, I’m out of a job and I’m looking across the country for a new job and If I win, we’re here and, you know, we got work to get done. And so I it was anxious anxiety filled like you wouldn’t believe, sleepless nights probably even worse than during the campaign itself. But, you know, it was a good result in the end, and it probably goes to show me and looking back at it that, you know, cast all your anxiety on him. I have a strong faith, which we’ve talked about in the past, and none of that worrying did me any good at the end of the day, but it was, it was stressful nights.

 

Kent Wyatt

You have polling that, pretty strong polling indicating what you thought the result might be.

 

Josh Schoemann

No, and that I mean, we’re small enough that that we didn’t get much polling, we didn’t get any polling. You know, we’re not quite to that sophisticated level in Washington County. And so there was no real indication but the best indicator was kind of what turnout was like in in my hometown versus this person’s hometown my opponents hometown and, and just anecdotal evidence. We went to the polls on the night of the election and just observed, you kind of get a flavor of where things were at. But you know, nothing was certainty, so we were just shooting in the dark. We kind of had a spreadsheet, a map of everything and kind of tried to analyze and the more we did the more anxiety filled it got. So I finally just said that’s just stop it. This isn’t worth it. And we just waited and prayed and be patient. [Laughter]

 

Kent Wyatt

Did you have a position on whether to do the election as scheduled? I think many people probably heard the higher level breakdown of Wisconsin and trying to figure out what to do with the election and there’s a great podcast on that, but what’s your take on it?

 

Josh Schoemann

Yeah, yeah, no, that it was, it was really difficult time and in the state and I did. I felt like the the election needed to go on and, and really, it wasn’t I wasn’t too worried about the election here in Washington County. But there’s a, these are all local races in the State of Wisconsin, not just the presidential primary, plus there was a state Supreme Court race. And so there’s a lot of questions about if the election doesn’t happen April 7, what there’s 1800 municipalities in Wisconsin and another 72 counties, plus school boards, what happens to all those vacant offices in the middle of a pandemic? How do we operate town, village City County government, and that was a real issue, and the governor at the literally, the bottom of the ninth with a date ago decided he was going to try to postpone it, and it would have just been chaos. So I was supportive of keeping the election on. Washington County did a lot, actually almost every county in the state including, you know Washington County is the most conservative County by election results in the State of Wisconsin, and the City of Madison is the most liberal by election results. City of Madison ran a phenomenal Election Day. They really did a nice job of, they did a little bit of consolidating, but getting people through and social distancing and putting up you know, sneeze guards and gloves and all the PPE and Washington County did the same in supplementing workers, so that there were enough poll workers. Milwaukee on the other hand, and Brown County, which is Green Bay, did a terrible job. They consolidated way too far. And it resulted in everything you saw on the national news with people in lines. And so I think it actually went really well. You know, it’s been now 15 days since Election Day. They’ve only been able to identify, I think it’s seven people who’ve who’ve got COVID-19 since the election. They’re not sure where they got it from. So I think our clerks who run elections locally at the municipal level did a unbelievable job. And I think it worked out well.

 

Kent Wyatt

Did you have problems finding volunteers, and that was one of the issues that was brought up was the trouble the trouble find volunteers to work at the polling places on election day. Was that a problem in Washington County?

 

Josh Schoemann

It wasn’t at all. We actually, there was a number of things we did. The county actually took county employees and volunteered them to be poll workers and we paid them their normal salaries and all that. The National Guard was called in, I think we had something like 56 National Guard troops that were sent in and helped in various ways. And we actually had an overabundance of local volunteers that came out and said they would help so many that we were unable to take them all. So we, we didn’t have a problem at all. Where the problems were again, City of Milwaukee and Brown County where they consolidated down to five. And the governor had said the week before that he was going to offer the National Guard and they dismissed it, and then the day before we’re like, oh, you sent all these people well, it’s too late. We don’t need them. And that’s what where the problems started. So for us it wasn’t a problem at all, and again our local clerks did a phenomenal job.

 

Kent Wyatt

So on a positive note, election night, walk us through, one of our members had a question about what your theme music was for that night. [Laughter] You may know, but walk us through election night, where were you, how did you learn the results?

 

Josh Schoemann

Yeah, yeah. Well on result night, election night, I was by myself drinking some whiskey [laughter] and on the result night you know, we couldn’t, we obviously couldn’t be with anybody and have the normal party and all that stuff. So I was at home with my wife and my boys and, and we were watching the results come in and we had some staffers strategically located so we can get results a little bit ahead of everybody else and, and there’s a Jason Aldean song that one of my one of my staff members who, we are pretty tight professionally, we’ve kind of had that as our as our theme song for a while now and, and the night you can go on my Facebook page and watch that night, April 13. We played it as my family came to the couch and after my opponent called and conceded and had that as our theme song playing. So it was, it was pretty special. And I’m more excited for the night when I finally can have all the volunteers come together and we have we can have an actual party but that was kind of that was a fun time.

 

Kent Wyatt

So you’re, you win the election and what you face is the continued response to the Coronavirus. Before we talk about your experience so far in Washington County and how you’ve responded and what may be next, I am curious, you know, obviously well, our listeners may not know your experience in the military. I’m curious about how that experience you feel like has prepared you so far to respond to this, you know, fast changing situation with the Coronavirus?

 

Josh Schoemann

Yeah, it it’s been, it’s come up in more cases than I anticipated at the beginning, the way that people react in a crisis, the planning that goes into it, the the reporting model, command structure that is built out, you know, we’ve all been through some of the NIMS training, as in the National Incident Management System training and, and those types of things and, you know, in theory you hear it and, I think it’s almost like, yeah, you know, I kind of get it, but in in real life as it’s happening, I think there was just, there’s a lot of similarities that kept taking me back to, to when I was deployed to Iraq back in 2003, and the way that people psychologically react, the way that decisions flow up the chain of command and sometimes not so great. One of the things that really has stuck with me recently is not just having to communicate with that incident command team or the emergency operation center, but really trying to make clear what, what my intent as the as the incident commander, joint incident commander is to the folks it kind of the mid level managers so that they can communicate it down to the frontline. Because if for whatever reason, it seems like, you know, at the incident command level, and maybe even at the department head level, everything just fall falls into this theoretical state and then it, there’s something that is always missed from there to the mid level manager. And that I remember that same thing happening when I was in Iraq and for some reason, there’s a disconnect between the officers and the enlisted non-commissioned officers, and then of course the frontline and so I’ve tried hard to, to cut through some of that, get to those mid level managers. And even later this week we’re having townhall meetings virtually where I’ll talk directly to frontline staff and talk through some of the things we’ve done last six weeks what to expect in the next several and why. And those are the lessons that I learned in part from Iraq, and part from my experience in local government over the last 13 years. But remembering where the disconnects were, and so it’s all of that experience has been very useful.

 

Kent Wyatt

So in the first six weeks of dealing with the Coronavirus, what were those difficult decisions that you’ve had to had to make and how much are you following the guidelines of the state in making these decisions?

 

Josh Schoemann

Yeah, well, we’re following the guidelines very closely and i and i don’t know what it’s been like in every other state but in Wisconsin, I would say especially up until about the end of last week, people have been very good about compliance, voluntary compliance. I think some of the hardest decisions are actually shutting down functions of county government. And when early early on, when do you just have to tell somebody you need to go home. And, you know, before we were in even into the mode of closing offices and having people work from home and all those things, having vulnerable staff who are vulnerable either because their health is at risk or because their age, just having to say to them, you know, I know you, I know you want to be here for whatever reason, but for your own sake, please just go home. That that was hard. And then when the cases started to come in, in Washington County for the first time, in our county we had a nurse in nursing home that contracted the virus in a Memory Care Unit. And, and ended up that there were five folks that died out of, I think it was 16. It was very, very sad, very difficult. And initially, you know, of course, we were concerned there are hundreds of people in this facility, not just in the memory care unit, and we and we heard everything that had happened out in Seattle, and everyone is very panicky, and then the first person died from it. And that hit everybody really hard. And, and that too, was like a flashback to the military. When it’s like, you know that that’s gonna happen, and you try hard to mentally prepare yourself for it, and then it happens. And it it almost takes your breath away like oh my gosh, it actually happened and couldn’t stop it and and then kind of as a team going through the grieving process and they okay it’s going to happen and then it’ll happen again and it may happen and friends of yours are going to get the virus and probably thousands of us will get it and most of us will recover but more people are gonna die and we got to keep going to help everybody we can possibly help. And so those were the hardest times and yet you know, so many good things of people just wanting to be helpful and and and doing the right thing and staying home, even little things like bringing in masks and donating a box of gloves that they had in their garage. So it’s been, it brings out so much good in people and, and yet it’s just a really difficult time.

 

Kent Wyatt

So it’s like we’re at this time inside dealing with the kind of the push pull of public health vs the economy. Last week you reopened golf courses. But on a larger scale, what is the strategy to reopen Washington County?

 

Josh Schoemann

Yeah, so now this is, this is getting to be the frustrating part of the situation. You know, if you read the President’s plan or what that he has, and then you read the Wisconsin governors plan, they’re really not that far apart from one another. It’s truly become political. And what what’s been interesting becoming an elected official in the middle of all this is, last night I was on the phone to, 9 or I think almost 9:30 at night, hearing firsthand from business owners who are truly in tears, and we’re talking small mom and pop restaurants and shops. I mean, the struggle that they’re going through is, is so real. And one of my favorite lines in, we put out a plan to open Washington County and we have a joint health department between our county and the neighboring county to the east. And our joint health department put out this plan. And in it they cite this quote and I’m not going to get it right. But it’s from the New York Times. And it basically it basically says that the pandemic is serious. And the seriousness of the economic struggles is equally serious. And as many people are going to struggle and maybe even die because of that. And it’s just been so real and it’s so hard to watch politics takeover. And really, we’re not that far apart from each other, but we’re fighting over days, and and it’s just frustrating. And so Washington County has put out a plan in the last couple of days. We did open golf courses last week, a week ahead of what the governor’s plan was, and, and our plan is to is really all around trying to give people hope. Because that’s to the point, the point we’re at in Wisconsin, and I don’t know what it’s like in every other state, but here you can feel people just yearning for, for hope for what the future, what lies ahead in the future. And and we’re trying to provide a little bit of that through a plan that is, is phased and, and you’re seeing the fight all across the country in different states and different municipalities. But, but here, we’re just the golf course was symbolic, give people one little thing, there’s 32 or 35 states across the country that have their golf courses open. We can, we can do this. We can handle it and it’s worked. It’s worked well. And I just had a phone call with a golf course owner today. And how do I how do I handle this situation so that we’re following the guidelines and, and I think people will continue to do the right thing. We just got to give them some hope, because we’re going to get through this but it’s going to take all of us working together.

 

Kent Wyatt

Well, I think you can always learn a lot by reading things on Twitter. [Laughter] So one thing, one thing that I came up I’m sure you know where I’m headed with this. Washington County had posted that the golf courses were opening, and I won’t name the Twitter handle, responded with Josh, you are a stupid a hole. I hope the governor comes down on you hard and then keeps your county golf courses closed until May. Obviously that’s extreme, but how do you deal with that type of feedback?

 

Josh Schoemann

Yeah, I said to my wife, it’s gotta be a half a dozen times in the last five or six days that I have more friends now than I’ve ever had in my entire life. And I have more enemies now than I’ve ever had in my entire life. It’s a bet. And I said, actually, that I said to my Sheriff literally like an hour ago, you know, how do we know we’re doing the right thing? Because we’re getting calls for people telling us the things that you just said, we’re going to kill people and you don’t care about human beings and we’re also getting calls from people saying open everything up. This is America, you’re violating my constitutional rights. So,  all you can do at the end of this day is, is the best you can do and try to, you’ve got so much information as a local leader coming at you from every direction and, and try to fare it through it and make the best decision possible for as many people as possible and, and, and work and try to keep people healthy and safe. And at the same time able to make a living and live their life and balance those two and at the end of the day you can go to sleep knowing you tried your hardest and you did your best and the Lord’s gonna take it from there. And I think that’s how that’s how you sleep at night. And that’s certainly what we’re trying to do.

 

Kent Wyatt

Yeah, I’m with you on the, on the business front, working for Tigard which is about 50,000. You know, there’s independent businesses that we hear from. You know, just the need that they have and the looking towards their, in this case city government for relief, which we certainly can provide some but not enough to sustain a business. What is your message to businesses in Washington County and elsewhere on how best to navigate this situation?

 

Josh Schoemann

Yeah, it’s really difficult. And I try to listen mostly you know, and it’s hard because we’re sitting here and in government paid positions that are going to be here today and are going to be here four years from now and four weeks from now and, and they really don’t know whether their business is going to exist in four weeks. So I think listening is probably the best advice for anybody. And then, you know, give it trying to give hope where you can and I don’t, opening a golf course seems like a really silly thing and gets a reaction like you described from some people, but for other people, it’s the world. I went out to our county golf course on Saturday, after we opened things up and just asked a couple of golfers as they’re coming off, how was it, and the wind was blowing like 40 miles an hour, and it was, it wasn’t very warm out. I mean, this is Wisconsin, it’s still April. And he’s like, it was miserable. But it was awesome. And you just think, you know, I mean, that’s what, that’s what people are hoping for. So we’re going through the governor’s order, and we’re trying to identify areas where, where we can help, you know, ease the burden as much as possible and, and keep putting pressure on our state and federal officials and ask them to keep doing more. And help fight the fight. And, you know, I tell people from the beginning of this process, all we’re doing all of this to bend the curve and protect our at risk population, out of love for our neighbors. And if you start everything from how do we do this out of love for our neighbors, including helping with their businesses, I think you can make some make ground make up ground and, and connect with them as best as possible. And people understand. I mean, they know, we’re all just trying to struggle through this and we will.

 

Kent Wyatt

I think one of the one of the interesting discussions popping up now is what the federal government’s role should be with local government in terms of we’ve seen some stimulus packages and feel like local government feels like they may be next in getting some help from the federal government. What are your feelings about what the federal government’s role should be in terms of providing funding relief for city and county governments?

 

Josh Schoemann

Yeah, I think they’re in a tough, tough position. And I mean, the money, the print, I can hear the printers from here in Washington County rolling with money coming off the line helping, trying to help everybody and you know, I certainly think there is a role that the federal government plays that can be helpful. But I, I’m cautious when I talk to federal officials to about, you know, we need help to get through the huge increases in costs for public health and trying to help like help businesses where we can. But don’t throw money at the problem. Don’t throw, you know, Washington County’s probably got 3 million $5 million, that that we’re losing in revenue and expenses that are higher because of the crisis. Don’t give us 12 million. That doesn’t help. Give me what I need and that’s it. And that’s a hard, that’s a hard needle to thread with thousands of counties across the country and tens of thousands of municipalities. So I think they’re in a very difficult position. I honestly think Republicans and Democrats, generally speaking at the federal level have worked pretty well together throughout this. So I don’t think they’re doing a bad job. I just, I get nervous about the amount that they’re printing and the loan debt that we’re going into to to get us through. And I hope I rely on the feds a 100% to work through, that our congressmen and women and senators to work through that. And I trust that they’re keeping an eye on things and doing the best they can and I feel like they are so I expect we’ll get some relief. I think there should be some relief, but I hope they don’t go overboard.

 

Kent Wyatt

This maybe an unfair question since you’re newly newly elected, but how does how do you envision or has it already started to impact your budget and how you think about you’re gonna budget excuse me how you think you’ll budget for the future?

 

Josh Schoemann

Oh, yeah, I’d been the County Administrator 40 hours ago and now being a County Executive has given me an advantage. But because we’ve been thinking about this for the full six weeks. One thing that we did in Washington County, well probably a year ago now is, I had all my department heads go through what we call the fiscal endurance exercise. And I think I’ve talked to you before about how Washington County is engaged in Priority Based Budgeting and worked with ResourceX to do that. And so we use the tools from ResourceX and ended this fiscal endurance exercise where I simulated the 2008 Great Recession and said it’s going to happen again. What are we going to do? Everybody write a white paper and, and, and start to talk about how are you going to react? And so just Monday morning, I brought all the department heads together and said, all right now, you know, here’s, I had the University of Wisconsin Extension office talk about the economy. And then I had our finance director talk about what we think is going to happen with the budget. And based on the last six weeks, and then I said to the department heads, alright, this, this is very real. We went through this exercise a year ago, pull that thing off the shelf dusted off, see what applies today, what doesn’t, and then begin to talk about implementing it. And, and so I think we come from a good place because we thought about it. We, we called it a fiscal endurance exercise. But really, it was almost like an emergency management tabletop exercise for the budget. And so I feel good about where we’re at. But, but it doesn’t allow us to escape from a lot of the discussions other places are having I know I read an article not too long ago about how I think the City of Cincinnati and some others are doing furloughs and layoffs and the University of Wisconsin system, a couple of our universities have recently announced furloughs. So I’m sure we’ll go through those same things. But we’ve thought about them ahead of time and it makes me feel good that we, you know, we don’t have to go through all that for the first time. But I, you know, it’s gonna be a challenge. We’re talking here in Wisconsin 25% unemployment, higher than the Great Depression, much higher than the Great Recession. Now maybe we bounce back, and it’s a V shaped recession. Maybe it’s a U shaped recession. God forbid, it’s like anything like 2008. But at least for the next 18 to 24 months, I feel like we’re in a decent spot. But we got some serious work to do.

 

Kent Wyatt

So part of that serious work was some of what you ran on. So you made a pledge to the voters about a number of things that you would do including refusing severance insurance, salary part, your salary, or what was that?

 

Josh Schoemann

Yeah, yeah. So there are two components to that pledge. One was, you know, I mentioned earlier in in our discussion here that I had a I had built into my Administrator contract that if they ever went to county executive that I would have a severance and all kinds of stuff. And that totaled about $150,000, just a little less than that. And then separate from that, I also made a pledge that I thought the county board set the salary for the county executive too high. The initial proposal would have set it higher than the Governor in the State of Wisconsin. And then the proposal they actually passed, made it the highest paid county executive in Wisconsin, and of course, we’re not we’re a smaller county than Milwaukee County and Dane County, which is where Madison is, and Brown County, which is where Green Bay is. And so I made a pledge that I would not take a salary that was the highest paid in the State of Wisconsin. So, like yesterday at the County Board Meeting, I had lived up to that severance pledge. I wrote them a memo that said I’m refusing the whole severance, which I guess kind of went one step farther. And so the whole  $150,000 they took, and last year I had done a walk across the county to raise money for veterans in Washington County and for a memorial for those veterans who died post 911 conflicts, and they donated the whole $150,000 to veterans and that Memorial. And then the salary, I haven’t announced this yet, but I’ll be, I’ll be foregoing a portion of my salary, so I’m not the highest paid county executive in the state. So yeah, those were the two that I pledged to do. And one I followed through on and proud to have done that. And all the credit goes to the veterans who actually have made the ultimate sacrifice and glory to God and, and now, in the coming weeks, we’ll follow through on the salary piece.

 

Kent Wyatt

So you were not lying earlier when you talked about basically using hard work to accomplish things that you want to and that’s your you’ve gotten right to work. It’s really cool to see, obviously your continued commitment to veterans. And that does bring me to a separate point from the Coronavirus and running for office. You’ve been I think you’ve been very influential than a number of veterans entering the local government profession. From your vantage point, at regional and then also a national level, do you see a move with more veterans getting involved in city and county government?

 

Josh Schoemann

I do and I am highly encouraging of any vet who’s looking at coming in and I’m highly encouraging of municipalities, you know, City Council’s, village boards, county boards, etc., to look at veterans as a good option. And as a matter of fact, I’m I have a Deputy County Executive position, that individual has plans to retire in the next year or so. And as I go, we work through that succession plan. I plan to reach out to Darrin Tangeman from the veteran, what is it the Veterans Local Government Management Fellowship, and work with him to replace that position. Because, you know, I was a lower enlisted vet when I got out, and I was early in my administrator career, I feel like I’ve got a lot of good lessons. But they’re from kind of the frontlines of the military. There’s a lot of guys coming out, like Darrin who have some awesome, not just military experience, but also executive level experience running large operations, who have gone through challenges that like this. I mean, the virus is serious and the challenge is real. But a war zone is very real and there’s so many parallels and having run people and run logistics and run public information or public affairs, that you can, you can tap into that these guys are service oriented, selfless servants, their values, the values of the military, very closely aligned with so many municipalities. And they, these guys and gals have a heart to serve. And that’s exactly what local governments all about. So, you know, I have a real passion for both local local government, government in general, but also the military and I think they’re, they’re a match made in heaven. So, yeah, I’d encourage anybody to consider hiring a veteran and I’m gonna put my money where my mouth is and hopefully be able to deliver on that here in Washington County.

 

Kent Wyatt

Did you know when you were in the military that you wanted to have a career in city or county government afterwards or did you just stumble into it?

 

Josh Schoemann

I knew that I did only after I went to Iraq. Well, initially I was going to be a social studies teacher and and then I got deployed and when I saw first hand what life was like for Iraqis, and quite literally, when I saw kids begging for food and drinking out of pot water puddles, I made this decision coming back that I would never, ever stand for seeing anything like that happen in in my community and I didn’t know what that meant at the time. I ended up kind of tripping into public administration. But I knew I, I had a heart to serve. And that’s what I wanted to do. And so that’s really kind of driven me to everything I’ve done, including making the decision to run for office. I’ve done a school board president ran for school board in the past, I always looked at that kind of like a volunteer thing. But when I had to make the decision of am I going to stay in the profession, take you know, take my severance and go be an administrator somewhere else. Or am I going to run for office here as county executive, I went straight back to, to my purpose statement to serve my Lord, my family and my neighbors with the gifts he’s given me to achieve their goals, dreams and missions, according to his defined will, and it hit home, I put my heart and soul in the last six and a half years here in Washington County, and I didn’t feel like the job was quite done yet. And so, you know, making that decision between being in the administrative front or being in the political front, to me wasn’t that hard because it was purpose driven. And, and I think, honestly, I think that’s what veterans are all about. And so it’s a it’s real privilege.

 

Kent Wyatt

Ya you know, it’s been great to see more and more veterans applying for jobs and getting jobs in local government. You’ve obviously got a busy schedule from when you’re running for office. Now that you’re in office and all the activities you’re involved in. Curious about how you find time to be a dad. I’m a dad of two girls, I have a job and do some ELGL work, but even that is a struggle to find time, to have quality time with my girls. How do you approach parenting?

 

Josh Schoemann

Yeah, it’s a challenge. First off, it’s a team game. My wife is unbelievable. I couldn’t do any of the stuff I’m doing without her. She’s, she’s a rock. And I, my kids have also been great. I literally have turned to scheduling in time in my calendar to make sure that I’m getting to their concerts and going to their track meets and cross country meets and taking them hunting and fishing and getting to basketball games. And, you know, in a weird kind of a way, the virus has actually helped to bring us together because there’s nowhere else to go. So, we actually are watching movies together and sitting on the couch and talking foolishly about just silly stuff. So, you know, it’s, it’s kind of been a blessing as on the backside of the curse of the virus. So but it it’s a real challenge to, to balance all the all these different things and I struggle with it. I’m sure I’m not a perfect dad. But I try hard and it’s a great it’s a great to have a good team member like my wife Jodi and I’ve got great kids. So I’m blessed, but it’s a continual work in progress.

 

Kent Wyatt

Well, a plot twist, we’re going to interview your wife and kids next week on the podcast.

 

Josh Schoemann

[Laughter] There you go. Sounds good. I’m sure they would appreciate that. [Laughter] I’m sure the answers would be all the same.

 

Kent Wyatt

I’m sure they would be. Just three quick hitters and then we’ll get out of here. You mentioned that you’re spending more time with the family and watching shows. What are you watching right now?

 

 

Josh Schoemann

We’re watching some BBC specials on the Metroplexes of the world, learning and learning about some of the big cities and how people live. [Laughter] The kids, the kids, I don’t know if they love it or not, but we’re also watching The Office. The kids love watching The Office. So we watch some silly comedy but yeah, it’s kind of what we’re watching. There’s no sports. So what are we going to do? Reruns of of the Packers beating the Seahawks, but that’s about it.

 

Kent Wyatt

Well, that’s my next question. So if the Packers and Seahawks do play next year, will there be fans in the stadium?

 

Josh Schoemann

[Laughter] Maybe not in the stadium but in their hearts, in their hearts.

 

Kent Wyatt

Give me a pulse check on how worried Wisconsin is about the lack of Green Bay Packer football.

 

Josh Schoemann

Oh man, I honestly, I don’t know what we’ll do, man. It’s our lifeblood up here. You’ve been here, you’ve seen it firsthand. I think people will go into a serious depression if it doesn’t happen. And I say that half joking and as serious. So it’ll be it’ll be tough for Wisconsinites if if football is without people in stands.

 

Kent Wyatt

Yeah, that’ll be interesting to follow up. there are a lot of competitions ahead on that, on that realm.

 

Josh Schoemann

Yeah, you’ll get all you’ll get all your news, you get all your true news from Twitter still. So you’ll know.

 

Kent Wyatt

Just paid my season ticket invoice so I’m assuming I’ll be allowed to see him. [Laughter]

 

Josh Schoemann

Maybe there but not Lambo, not not after last time.

 

Kent Wyatt

That was yeah. Six interceptions by Russell Wilson. I don’t think he’s topped that yet. So it was definitely once in a lifetime experience, right. [laughter] I do want to give you the platform, so you were elected this week. Do you want to go ahead and announce that you’ll be running for Governor or President next?

 

Josh Schoemann

[Laughter] I have gotten a lot of that recently [laughter] if you can imagine especially since I’m the only county executive in the state who opened golf courses with a bold move, bold move opening golf courses. Funny.

 

Kent Wyatt

Now we assume that you’ll announce on the GovLove podcast when that time comes.

 

Josh Schoemann

Oh, yeah. Make this my first official interview dodge. [Laughter]

 

Kent Wyatt

I caught you at the beginning of the interview saying, I’m not a political guy. And then you went into a political statement. [Laughter]

 

Josh Schoemann

I stumbled through an answer. Yeah.

 

Kent Wyatt

Nonpolitical statement was a political statement. It’s very, very sad. And I probably will use that too. That was good. So the last last question. So Ben Kittelson, our award winning producer closes out the show by playing the preferred song of our guests. So Josh do you want us to play the theme song you mentioned earlier or is there a different song that you think would be more appropriate for this episode?

 

Josh Schoemann

Oh, no, no, no. It’s got to be, I think it’s got to be Jason Aldean. They’re gonna know we were here.

 

Kent Wyatt

Great. Okay, we’ll do that. And I do want to encourage our listeners, Josh is extremely accessible. Whether you’re a veteran who’s interested in getting into local government, just curious and interested in getting into local government, incredible resource even though I live across the country, it’s always good to hear from Josh and the expertise that he has, so please contact him and reach out. He’s very good at getting back to folks. Josh, any final words before we take off?

 

Josh Schoemann

No, thanks so much for having me on. And thank you for doing GovLove and ELGL. It’s awesome.

 

Kent Wyatt

Well, that ends our episode today. Thanks for coming on and talking. GovLove is produced by Ben Kittelson. For our listeners, you can reach us at elgl.org/govlove or on Twitter @govlovepodcasts, or on iTunes, SoundCloud, Stitcher and Google Play Music.


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