Ozaukee won’t join its partner in legal action

Washington County, which shares a health department with its neighbor, seeks to intervene in suit over Evers’ shutdown
Ozaukee Press staff

Ozaukee County will not join Washington County in filing an amicus brief in the state Legislature’s effort to halt Gov. Tony Evers’ order to extend his Safer at Home order until May 26.

“Ozaukee County will not be inserting itself into the case,” Ozaukee County Administrator Jason Dzwinel said on Friday, a day after Washington County filed its brief with the state Supreme Court.

“The County Board will not have any committee appointments approved until next Wednesday (May 6). We cannot seek approval to join or expend funds without committee approval,” he added.

Ozaukee and Washington counties merged their two public health departments a few years ago into the Washington Ozaukee Public Health Departments.

In its lawsuit, the Republican-led Legislature argues that Evers, a Democrat, and his administration’s extension of the Safer at Home order violates state law by not including lawmakers in the decision-making process.

The Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments in the case on Tuesday.

On Thursday, April 30, Washington County officials filed an amicus, or “friend of the court,” brief with the Supreme Court, saying local control, not state mandates from the governor or the Department of Health Services (DHS), was the best way to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

In a statement, Washington County Executive Josh Schoemann said, “county governments are better equipped to monitor our local issues. In any emergency, the boots on the ground can adapt much quicker and effectively than Madison or Washington, D.C.”

In the county’s brief, Washington County Attorney Brad Stern argues that state law gives the power and responsibility of managing health emergencies to municipalities, including counties, and should only step in when “local authorities fail to enforce the communicable disease statutes and rules.”

The DHS has “usurped the county’s statutory authority to manage the Covid-19 emergency within its borders,” he writes.

Stern pointed out that Washington Ozaukee Public  Health officials responded swiftly to the coronavirus outbreak that occurred at Village Pointe Commons in Grafton, has distributed personal protection equipment, created an online dashboard to keep the public informed of outbreaks and developed a blueprint for reopening Ozaukee and Washington counties.

“The local health department has taken steps to manage the Covid-19 crisis that directly addresses local needs and concerns in a way that DHS is incapable of by way of its cookie-cutter approach. This thoughtful and localized approach can only be devised and carried out on the local level. If this task were left to DHS, it would likely never get done.”

Schoemann said he and Public Health Director Kirsten Johnson had “quite a long and lengthy discussion” on filing the brief and that she was involved in its drafting.

He said Washington County would follow her department’s blueprint, which he said “has been the concept of local control after the Safer at Home order expires.”

Ozaukee County Board Chairman Lee Schlenvogt said that while its true that the local public health department, the county “has to answer to the state. We’re following all the guidelines to get  this county open as soon as possible.” 

Schlenvogt agreed, however, that each county needs to be treated individually.

“I teleconference every day with other county leaders on this situation. Some counties don’t have any outbreaks,” he said.

“At the end of the day, the Supreme Court is going to have their say and we’ll just have to take it from there.”



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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