MONROE — In what may be the first majority female Monroe Common Council in the history of the governmental body, the alderwomen now overseeing city politics approach the duty with varying opinions and experience levels.
A common thread which pulls them all together, despite variances in age, education and life experiences, is the idea that women can bring a new viewpoint to the table and that change is necessary to move Monroe forward.
Brooke Bauman was first elected in 2011. Her first term was swept in on a wave of change. She recalled that each of the wards up for election at that time were contested and all of the incumbents were unseated by large margins. At the time, council had only one female member. In that year, it gained three.
“It was pretty overwhelming,” Bauman said. “People wanted change.”
I’ve lived here my entire life and just kind of wanted to get involved. I want to see the city grow. It’s moving in the wrong direction.Brooke Bauman, Monroe alderwoman
Though like many, Bauman ran for her first election because of a single issue, but has now embraced advocacy for progress and worked on a number of committees and groups to try to influence development.
“I’ve lived here my entire life and just kind of wanted to get involved,” Bauman said. “I want to see the city grow. It’s moving in the wrong direction.”
A common refrain from members of the local government criticizes city growth, specifically the stagnate population, which has been echoed by Bauman.
Monroe native Donna Douglas has the most government experience of the women on council, bringing more than five decades of public office knowledge to the position she was elected to in April 2018 alongside the fifth woman on Monroe Common Council, Mickey Beam.
SHE is a three-part series in the Monroe Times focused on women in professional settings. This is the final story in the series.
As a farmer with her husband Walter on a 500 acre farm in rural Brodhead, Douglas became an advocate for agriculture on the formerly named American Dairy Association as a producer. She served on an advisory board to help build the Brodhead High School in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
For Douglas, getting her original position on the Decatur Town Board was simple. Chair Willis Riemer asked her to fill a vacancy. According to an article in which she was featured that ran in the Wisconsin State Journal, she was one of the first women in the state to serve as a town supervisor when she took the spot in the late 1970s.
“From then on, I was challenged every two years, and of course at that time they didn’t have the respect for women,” Douglas said. “Men thought your job was not to be on a board. But that wasn’t a problem for me. I got along very well with the men I served with and they had respect for me.”
In the early 1980s, she began her tenure on the Green County Board of Supervisors, serving on committees and taking part in discussion regarding controversial topics, like the county landfill siting in Decatur and whether to convert the old railroad into the Badger State Trail that now runs throughout Green County. She even found herself contested by college-educated Loren Riemer, Willis’ son, in 1982, but won the race handily.
“I had been in office long enough that they respected my common sense,” Douglas said.
She was eventually defeated on the county board. It didn’t stop her involvement in policy, though. She was first appointed to the Southwest Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission in 1987, and again by then Gov. Tommy Thompson in 1994, and again in 2000.
We can’t grow if we don’t have people coming in. I have to look at the big picture.Donna Douglas, Monroe alderwoman
Bauman has also been drawn to government for most of her life because of her uncle, Wayne Wilson, who served for years on the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors. Douglas was acquainted with Wilson during his time on the board, and Bauman finds it “a fun fact” that she and Douglas now serve in local government together.
The two agree that the city needs to embrace progress by finding a way to improve the housing stock, in particular to draw in more young professionals.
“We can’t grow if we don’t have people coming in,” Douglas said. “I have to look at the big picture.”
Newly elected Alderwoman Kelly Hermanson was bolstered by a desire to see the city grow. The Darlington native ran for council after years of considering an alderman position but holding back because her two sons were younger and less independent.
Hermanson noted she has always been interested in public office and city issues, commonly speaking to her representatives and asking questions. But due to the somewhat muddled process in deciding the 2019 budget, in which the Finance and Taxation Committee asked City Administrator Phil Rath to submit the best budget option instead of publicly discussing its pieces, felt more hidden from public scrutiny. She had voiced her opinion even more and felt compelled to run and ask those questions herself among fellow council members.
“The discussion piece is how the public hears and knows and understands and so, to not discuss it, does not allow an understanding either,” Hermanson said. “I like the discussion piece.”
Individuals with disabilities or veterans; I truly live and believe that … to be able to have a variance in the individuals who are on council, or on a different board or a chair or whatever that may be, is important. Not just in who they represent, but their perspective and potentially their decision process.Kelly Hermanson, Monroe alderwoman
As a regional operations senior manager overseeing Green, Lafayette and Rock County to administer the Family Care Program, a state-based long-term care program which provides services to people with disabilities, Hermanson is a self-professed planner. But she also has life experience which helps her understand that government representation should not be limited to one demographic, and said council makeup goes beyond simply seeing more females sitting in the chairs.
“There are many influential and important women,” Hermanson said. “Individuals with disabilities or veterans; I truly live and believe that … to be able to have a variance in the individuals who are on council, or on a different board or a chair or whatever that may be, is important. Not just in who they represent, but their perspective and potentially their decision process.”
Hermanson and fellow newly elected alderwoman Tammy Fetterolf are not only similar in wanting to evaluate the budget firsthand, they also agree in wanting to see the city grow.
A resident for more than 25 years, Fetterolf has a background in accounting and human resources. She has enjoyed the city for years, trading a life in Chicago for the quality of a small city in Wisconsin.
“Monroe is a great community,” Fetterolf said. “Monroe is a very special place. I grew up in a town the size of Monroe and it offered nothing like what Monroe offers in way of opportunities for families and kids.”
Monroe is a very special place. I grew up in a town the size of Monroe and it offered nothing like what Monroe offers in way of opportunities for families and kids.Tammy Fetterolf, Monroe alderwoman
Like Hermanson, Fetterolf said the budget process was part of the impetus for her running for a seat in public office, something she noted she “never” thought she would do. She said watching the process was an “eye-opener.”
Bauman said that women make up more than half the population, and should therefore “definitely” serve in public office just as much as men. She added that not just females, but young people in general can provide new ideas and add to the knowledge accrued by those who have spent years in office. Fetterolf echoed both Bauman and Hermanson in a desire for more diverse representation.
“I think women bring a different perspective,” Fetterolf said. “I think it’s good to have a mix of people in city government—male, female, young, old—I’d like to see more diversity if we could. I just think that the more people in the community that are represented, the better.”