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Burmeister Approved As Highway Commissioner

Issue Date: August 29, 2018

Marinette County has a new Highway Commissioner. By a 26 to four vote on Tuesday, Aug. 28, County Board approved County Administrator John LeFebvre's appointment of Eric Burmeister to fill the vacancy created when Rick Rickaby resigned several months ago to accept employment with a private firm.

Burmeister, who has served as the county's Emergency Government Director for 13 years, has been filling the Highway Commissioner job on a temporary basis along with his Emergency Government responsibilities since Rickaby's departure became effective on May 24.

Motion to approve Burmeister s Highway Commissioner was 26 to four, with supervisors Shirley Kaufman, David Zahn, Mike Behnke and Gail Wanek opposed. Kaufman and Zahn are members of the Infrastructure Committee but were both absent from the committee meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 8 when LeFebvre's proposal to name Burmeister to the Commissioner job was approved without dissent.

During the extended discussion that preceded the vote, Kaufman declared she has nothing against Burmeister, but disagreed with the recommendation because he does not hold the engineering degree that was recommended for the job, and lacks experience in road construction.

Behnke too was concerned about lack of a new job description, since the previous one did recommend the engineering degree. He said a lot of applicants in the past had not been considered for that reason. "That's a huge department and Eric has only supervised a small staff," Behnke added. He also was concerned they were setting a new precedent on how to go about putting a new person in a department head position.

"That's a conversation we'll have after he's approved," LeFevbre responded when asked how the Emergency Management duties will be handled when Burmeister moved into the new post, and whether or not a new head will be needed for that department.

Zahn said he shared the same concerns that Behnke expressed, and noted that with himself and Kaufman absent only four of the six Infrastructure Committee members had been present when the recommendation to name Burmeister was explained and approved. Zahn felt they should require an engineering degree or equivalent road building and maintenance experience.

Supervisor John Guarisco disagreed. "I don't know Eric's qualifications, but I like to see promotions from within...it adds stability," he added.

Supervisor Gilbert Engel, an Infrastructure Committee member who had been present on Aug. 8, said the transition seemed flawless when Burmeister came aboard to replace Rickaby. At the committee meeting, Forestry and Parks Administrator Pete Vilas, who works closely with the Highway Department and shares the same headquarters building in Peshtigo, had praised Burmeister's handling of the job on a temporary basis and supported his permanent appointment as head of the Highway Department.

Supervisor Bonnie Popp asked if any other members of the Highway Crew had been interested in the Commissioner job, and was told they were not.

Ken Keller, who formerly supervised Burmeister's Emergency Government Department as chair the Public Services Committee, supported Burmeister as a good choice.

Engel said as a member of the Highway Department's oversight committee he has several reasons for favoring Burmeister. He said Burmeister is able to communicate well with other departments and department heads, does meet the qualification requirements, and has strengths in handling emergency situations, in which roads are almost always critical.

"I've heard nothing but good reports about Eric," commented Supervisor Don Pazynski. "We've appointed John (LeFebvre) to be our administrator....We have to respect his judgment," he added.

Supervisor Glenn Broderick said he had talked with people on the Highway Department and found that, "They like working with Eric, so I'm supporting him."

"I'm for Eric," agreed Supervisor Vilas Schroeder. However he wondered if Burmeister can do both the Emergency Management and Highway Commissioner jobs, and if so, "is there really enough work for a full time Emergency Management Director?"

"We debated this extensively in committee," Supervisor Al Sauld told the board. "Eric has been with the county for quite a while and I think he'll stay on in the Commissioner job with the county." He noted several previous commissioners brought in from elsewhere worked a short time and moved on.

Behnke repeated his objections were to the procedure, and sought reassurance that Burmeister's training and qualifications equaled what had been required in the past.

LeFebvre said when Rickaby left he gave the matter some long thought and asked Burmeister to step in temporarily. "Eric was willing to take it on temporarily as a challenge," LeFebvre said. He added that neither he nor Burmeister thought he would be interested on a permanent basis.

LeFebvre had advertised, and Burmeister liked the job and decided to apply. LeFebvre said he had talked with Committee Chair Al Mans, and questioned if they really needed an engineering degree. He said the Commissioners almost never sign construction plans and documents, and asked, "Do we want an engineer or a business person as head of that department?" He said Burmeister has a criminal justice background, knows the county inside out, knows all the town clerks and chairmen and all the supervisors, and added, "Eric can handle surprises.. .and he's had bout half a dozen big ones since he started." He said the Emergency Management background will also be a major plus, since the highway department would be involved in dealing with just about any emergency that could arise, from barricading roads if there is a shooting to clearing them if there is a blizzard and creating a way around if there is a flood.

He does hold a four year degree from Northern Michigan University, has worked 13 years for the county, knows how to apply for grants, and meets all the required parts of the existing job description.

He pointed out the two engineers hired four years ago stayed only briefly. There will be a 6-month probation period for the job.

After the vote of approval, Burmeister thanked the board and promised, "If I don't know the answer to a question you ask me, I promise I will go out and research the issues and we can work together to find the answer."

The appointment became effective immediately upon approval.


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