A voice for consumers

Public members discuss how they view their role on boards

By JANET WEYANDT | January 29, 2020

As a Wisconsin licensing board public member, Dennis Myers takes his job seriously and is doing his best to ease the vacancy problem. In fact, he’s currently serving on five different boards.

“I don’t take anything unless I can do it right,” said Myers, 76. “But I had some extra room.”

Myers spent his career at the Milwaukee Public Schools in the physical plant department. When he retired 20 years ago, he decided to do something completely different and became a public servant. He spent many years as a Washington County supervisor, and then six years ago was appointed by Gov. Scott Walker to the Wisconsin Judicial Council.

He’s still a member of that body and in the years since has added four more boards to his list: The Council on Library and Network Development (through the Department of Public Instruction), the Real Estate Appraisers Board, the Dentistry Examining Board and the Examining Board of Architects, Landscape Architects, Professional Engineers, Designers and Professional Land Surveyors. In there somewhere, he also found time to serve as a trustee in Germantown.

Walking into his first Judicial Council meeting the first day was “intimidating,” Myers said, but the rest of the board welcomed him warmly.

Being a public member of a licensing board is a worthwhile thing to do, he said.

“For all of the residents in the State of Wisconsin, we are the eyes for them,” he said. “That’s the way I view myself. (The purpose is) to have a spoken voice at these meetings for the general public.”

Importance of outside input

That’s the primary reason Brian McGrath of New Berlin, an attorney at the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, wanted to serve as a public member. McGrath was appointed to the Real Estate Examining Board in 2014 and served for approximately two years.

During that time, he said, he learned a lot and felt he was contributing in an important way.

“Do you want real estate brokers being the sole decision-makers for all things relating to real estate brokers?” he said. “Discussing cases, rule-making, setting policy that comes through that board? It occurred to me you don’t. You don’t want that for any industry; you want some outside input for every industry. That’s why I decided to be public member.” Any concerns he had about territorial attitudes from people in the industry turned out to be unfounded, he said. In fact, particularly in cases of discipline, the market participants, as members from the industry are known, were always concerned with what was best for the profession and the public.

“The brokers on the board were anxious to discipline bad actors,” he said. “I’d say people really ought to do this, because it gets you involved in state government, which I think is a benefit to the person and to the state.”

Brad Kudick found his way onto the Medical Examining Board three years ago by way of a friend who served on another board and recommended him to the office of then-Gov. Scott Walker. After someone in the office approached him about serving, Kudick started the application process and was ultimately confirmed as a public member.

Kudick, a financial advisor in Milwaukee, doesn’t have any personal or professional background in the medical field — and that’s exactly how it should be for a public member, he said.

“I come in with a different perspective than the professionals,” he said. “I come in from a patient point of view or consumer point of view. I never feel like they’re stomping on me or won’t listen to my opinion. They’re reviewing so much medical information; I review it as well, but I take a different viewpoint. A consumer perspective. I think that’s a really a valuable part of the board.”

Different perspectives, different priorities

When attorney Matthew Fernholz joined the Architect Section of the Examining Board of Architects, Landscape Architects, Professional Engineers, Designers and Professional Land Surveyors, it was because he wanted to serve the state and had an interest in the topic. Though he is a civil litigator in Waukesha, his firm had done some construction litigation, and he had some familiarity with the topic.

He also went in with the expectation that he would see eye to eye with the rest of the members of the board. That turned out not to be the case.

Fernholz, who served from 2014 to 2016, said some participants from the profession seemed more inclined to protect their turf than he was as a public member.

For instance, he remembers a lot of discussion about an existing clause in the administrative code allowing college students to take their professional examinations before they graduated.

Some market members thought the rule was a bad idea, but Fernholz said, “Of all the dumb decisions college students can make, is taking an exam to be a landscape architect really something we should be worried about?”

Fernholz served on the board’s screening panel, which means he was one of the people charged with reviewing disciplinary cases. There, too, he had a different viewpoint from his industry peers.

“My concern was someone as an architect doing something negligent, threatening the structure or integrity of a building,” he said. In contrast, other board members were highly concerned with professionals who hadn’t kept up with their continuing education requirements. “There was a sense that this is a real threat to the public, which I did not agree with.”

Although he never saw anything that seemed inappropriately punitive, it did underscore for him the importance of having public members on licensing boards.

“If you don’t have outsiders, you wind up having people who are more concerned, I think, with protecting the size of the guild, who are more concerned with enforcing what I would describe as ticky-tack violations,” he said. “I think it’s important for people who are outside the profession to give a viewpoint of what’s really in the public interest.”

Fernholz resigned from the board only because his life got busier — his daughter was born in 2016 and his practice picked up — not because he didn’t enjoy the service.

“No one on the committees was hostile to me in any way,” he said. “I’m glad I did it.”

Difficulty getting them in the door

Public members rarely quit because they don’t enjoy their service, according to Yolanda McGowan, administrator of the Division of Policy and Development in DSPS. On the contrary, once a person is appointed to a board, they tend to stay as long as the term limit of their position allows. The hard part is getting them in the door.

When a new public member joins a board, it’s up to the board chair to make sure every member is treated equitably, McGowan said.

Rosheen Styczinski is one of those board chairs. A landscape architect for 35 years, she’s been a member of the Examining Board of Architects, Landscape Architects, Professional Engineers, Designers and Professional Land Surveyors for 10 years. Under the umbrella of that board are sub-boards for each of the specialties; Styczinski serves as chair for both the joint board and the Landscape Architecture Section board.

Styczinski said public board members who drop out typically do so for personal reasons: family commitments, job changes requiring relocation, etc. She said she’s never heard anyone suggest that a public member left a board because they weren’t being heard or recognized. And while they can’t talk about technical issues specific to the industry, they bring vital information from their own experiences.

For example, she said, when the board was discussing continuing education requirements for licensed professionals, the conversation turned to professionals who were in the military and unable to meet the requirements because of deployment. A public member who had served in the military suggested a solution that solved the problem.

“That’s always been the nice contribution, they look at things a little differently than the professionals,” Styczinski said. “That kind of balances.”

Janet Weyandt of Sheboygan is a freelance writer.