Written by Lance Leonhard
As part of its commitment to be open, honest, and communicative about the topics Marathon County leadership and staff get comments and questions on the most, this month’s article in our “I’m Glad You Asked . . .” series features:
“I’m Glad You Asked . . .” 5 Questions Lance Leonhard Was Asked as He Took On the Role of County Administrator
As Deputy Administrator, I was asked to serve as Marathon County’s Interim Administrator beginning December 31, 2019, while the hiring process for a new Administrator took place. Looking back, my colleagues and I certainly had a busy couple of months kicking off the new year . . .
- We approved a new agreement with Langlade and Lincoln Counties relative to North Central Health Care.
- We completed a major renovation project at the Marathon County Jail.
- We amended our zoning code to allow us to properly regulate wind farms.
- We unveiled our broadband assessment and expansion plan.
And, of course, we have been responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, among many other community-based tasks.
When my appointment was announced and I began my first day as Marathon County’s new Administrator on April 5, I received countless emails and phone messages congratulating me and wishing me well. I’ve also had a fair number of people ask me questions about the job thus far in an effort to learn a little more about me both personally and professionally.
To that end, our Editorial Board put together the following 5 questions for me to answer to help staff, business members, and residents in Marathon County get to know me better — and from a safe, social distance during this time when we’re unable to gather together in person for meetings, networking, or socializing.
So, here goes . . .
#1. What has surprised you the most since you became the official County Administrator?
That’s easy . . . COVID-19.
When I took on the Interim Administrator role at the end of December 2019, I worked with the County Board to put together a comprehensive work plan based on the priorities the Board has laid out in its 2020 Annual Budget and its discussions to that point. The scope of work was considerable, with numerous facility planning projects, the development of multiple long-range funding plans, and the assessment of several programs.
Unfortunately, however, since the Board adopted the work plan in March, virtually all of my time and energy has been devoted to COVID-19 planning and response. Our primary goal has been to continue to deliver governmental services while ensuring the safety and well-being of the public and our staff. And I couldn’t be more proud of the way that our organization has responded . . .
Our Public Health staff have done an amazing job working with our healthcare systems to identify individuals who have tested positive for, or have been exposed to, COVID-19 and to then limit further spread of the virus.
Our Social Services staff are working with those individuals who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19 to enroll them in benefit programs as promptly as possible.
And staff from all of our departments are increasingly working to serve our customers via telephone, video chat, or online resources to help meet important needs by temporarily limiting public access at some County buildings while keeping our community members safe.
#2. What’s the biggest challenge, other than COVID-19, facing Marathon County Government?
Let me answer that by pointing out our organization’s biggest asset: Our amazing staff.
We have a team of professionals who are dedicated to serving Marathon County’s residents. And one of my most important jobs as Administrator is to grow and develop that team. To do that, I need to make sure that we attract and retain top performers, and we do that in a wide variety of ways . . .
First, we have a strong organizational culture built on our core values and centered on achieving our stated overarching goal of making Marathon County the healthiest, safest, and most prosperous county in the State of Wisconsin.
Second, we are committed to developing the professional and personal skills of everyone in our organization. Whether it’s through our internal leadership programs or through encouraging participation in statewide or national professional organizations and trainings, our organization recognizes that for us to deliver on our responsibilities to those we serve, we need to constantly be developing the skills of our staff.
Finally, our organization strives to be open and inclusive. Whether it’s with respect to race, religion, gender, orientation, socioeconomic background, education, or any other descriptor, we recognize that a diverse and inclusive workforce makes us stronger and better positioned to deliver quality services to the residents and guests of Marathon County.
The competition for talent is local, regional, national, and international, and as technology continues to advance, we need to ensure that we’re continuing to bring in the best and the brightest to join our stellar staff.
And that’s a challenge I welcome.
#3. How did your legal background/knowledge apply to your work as Deputy Administrator and now to your work as County Administrator?
While I certainly don’t practice law as County Administrator, I absolutely believe that my legal background and education are an asset in this role.
Before working in County Administration, I practiced law in the Marathon County District Attorney’s Office for 8 years and in the County Corporation Counsel’s Office for another 2 years. That decade of legal experience has been extremely valuable.
As a prosecutor, I developed a deep understanding of the criminal justice system and worked closely with law enforcement and the courts. How is that helpful to me now? Public safety is one of the core duties of County Government. Understanding the roles and responsibilities of each of the partners in the criminal justice system is critical, and having strong personal relationships with the people working and serving in those roles has been a big help to me in my administration work.
Furthermore, serving in Marathon County’s Corporation Counsel’s Office, I got a strong sense of the work of each of our 22 County departments (along with our 3 joint venture departments: City-County Information Technology Commission, Aging and Disability Resource Center of Central Wisconsin, and Central Wisconsin Airport) because that office provides legal advice to all of the County’s departments. The Corporation Counsel is also the parliamentarian for the County Board and its committees, so I got an inside view of the Board and how it conducts its work, which is certainly helpful in my current role.
Apart from the benefit of my legal work experience, my sense is that having a law degree is valuable as well. The simple reality is that virtually all of what County Government does is governed by State law, so oftentimes when a question comes up, the first place you look is in the Wisconsin Statutes. Being comfortable reading and interpreting statutes has helped me immensely in my administrative roles.
#4. What do you like best about Marathon County?
I’m going to cheat on this question and give 2 answers: the people and the outdoors.
I’m not from Central Wisconsin, but I can’t think of calling anywhere else home. My wife Kate and I moved to Wausau 13 years ago from Milwaukee, when I accepted a position as a Prosecutor in the Marathon County District Attorney’s Office, and people in this community have welcomed us with open arms from Day One.
We are so fortunate to have found our way to Central Wisconsin. We both have rewarding careers that we really enjoy (my wife is a Surgical Technologist at Aspirus). We live in an amazing neighborhood, where our 2 children play with the kids next door, ride their bikes around the block, and swim at the City pool across the street (of course, social distancing and the playground closures have put a temporary damper on some our neighborhood activities, but things will pick up where they left off soon enough).
Apart from great people, Central Wisconsin is such a great place because we’ve got everything an outdoor enthusiast can imagine. I love to golf, camp, fish, and downhill ski; however, I don’t get as many opportunities as I would like to get out of the office to do that. But, even if I can’t get enough time to play 18 holes, visit the lake, or head over to Granite Peak, I can always steal a few minutes to sit in my backyard around my firepit. And that’s plenty relaxing for me.
#5. What’s your guilty pleasure?
Those who know me well know that I frequently have trouble sleeping. One result is that I often send work emails rather late in the evening and even early into the morning. Another is that I frequently find myself watching Netflix.
I enjoy documentaries, particularly those related to cooking (another guilty pleasure), animal behavior, and science. I recently watched “Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates,” which was truly awe-inspiring.
I’m a bit less proud to admit that I — along with almost everyone else in the County, near as I can tell — have watched the entire “Tiger King” series. I could try put my thoughts on the series in this article; however, I think I’ve said too much already.
As for my favorite guilty pleasure in terms of a classic Wisconsin food? It’s deep-fried cheese curds hands-down! Quite honestly, I don’t know if I’ve ever had a cheese curd I didn’t like. That being said, I’m going to keep looking.
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During this time of transition and change in all sorts of new ways, please feel free to email me with your questions or comments. I look forward to learning more about how I can better connect with and serve the residents, employees, business owners, and community leaders of Marathon County.
Marathon County Administrator
Lance Leonhard began his career in Marathon County Government in the Office of Corporation Counsel. He then served as Deputy Administrator and currently serves as the Marathon County Administrator. Lance’s career in public service has spanned more than a decade, having worked for the federal government as a law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and for the state of Wisconsin as an Assistant District Attorney. Outside of work, you’re likely to find Lance spending time with his family, traveling, teeing off on a local golf course, or sitting around a campfire with friends. Email Lance Leonhard
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Please email our Editorial Board with your comments, suggestions, and article ideas.
And if you spot a typo or an inaccuracy, please contact us so we can fix it. Thanks!