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MADISON - Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen today issued a formal opinion answering two questions posed by Portage County Corporation Counsel Michael J. McKenna concerning the operation of county human services departments and county health departments in counties that have created the elective office of county executive.
Portage County created the position of County executive in 2005. After the election of the county executive, Portage County has continued to have a Department of Health and Human Services in which human services and health functions have been combined. Both before and after the election of the county executive, the county health and human services director has continued to supervise the county health officer, who is in charge of county health programs.
Van Hollen ruled that section 251.06(4)(b) of the Wisconsin Statutes does not require a county that has a county executive to create a stand-alone county health department. Van Hollen explained that sections 46.23(3)(b)1.bm and 46.23(3)(b)1.c. of the Wisconsin Statutes authorize the county board to transfer the duties of the county health officer and the county health department to the county human services department either before or after the office of county executive has been created.
Van Hollen also ruled that the county health and human services director may exercise supervisory authority over county health department programs. Section 59.17(2)(a) of the Wisconsin Statutes provides that the county executive coordinates and directs all administrative and management functions of the county government not vested by law in other elected county officers. After the county executive was elected, under sections 46.23(6m) and 251.06(4)(b) of the Wisconsin Statutes, both the county health and human services director and the county health officer also became "subject only to the supervision of the county executive."
After the county executive was elected, he also possessed the exclusive authority to appoint and remove the county health and human services director and the county health officer under sections 17.10(6)(a) and 251.06(4)(b) of the Wisconsin Statutes.
Van Hollen ruled that these provisions do not preclude the county health and human services director in a county that has a county executive from exercising supervisory authority over the county health officer and county health department program. Van Hollen stated that the purpose of section 46.23(6m) and 251.06(4)(b) of the Wisconsin Statutes is to remove supervisory authority over county department heads from the county board, its committees, and boards such as the human services board.
Van Hollen explained that these provisions do not negate the provisions of section 46.23(6m)(a) of the Wisconsin Statutes, which direct the county human health and human services director to supervise and administer all programs, including health department programs, that have been transferred by the county board to the combined health and human services department.
A copy of the original request and Attorney General Van Hollen's formal opinion can be below: