Schmidt Appointed to Middleton Town Board

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By: 
Kevin Murphy

MIDDLETON - Denise Schmidt, long-time chair of the town of Middleton Plan Commission, was recently appointed to fill the second year of Paul Connell’s term on the town board.

Schmidt is just the second woman to serve on the five-member board, after Cynthia Richson was elected town chair in 2017 and re-elected last month

“This is history making,” Richson said last week.

In recent years, the Plan Commission has served as a stepping stone to the town board for Stephen Tumbush and Bill Kolar, and Schmidt said the job serves to prepare a resident for the work of steering the town into the future.

“The Plan Commission not only looks at things in a holistic manner, it touches on the multiple operations of the town. It’s good experience to have,” Schmidt said.

The commission was involved in getting the town’s input the past two years during the first rewriting of Dane County’s zoning ordinance in decades. Schmidt also assisted in the town drafting it first comprehensive land use plan, which is being updated now.

Asked if there were other tasks while on the commission that involved a lot of time and effort, Schmidt said, generally they all did.

“If you’re doing your job right, each meeting requires some homework and preparation. You need a practical understanding of what we’re making decision on,” she said.

Schmidt has a degree in public policy from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

Her public service also includes a career at the Wisconsin Public Service Commission’s Water, Telecommunications and Consumer Affairs Division where she is in an executive position advising on water policy initiatives. She has worked with municipalities for most of her professional life gaining knowledge of how local government works or doesn’t. She also has gotten management experience by serving on a board of statewide water association.

With her background, and living in the town since 2004, Schmidt said she doesn’t come to the town board with an agenda to advance or an axe to grind. 

Instead, she said she is listening to what the residents want. That worked when the Comprehensive Plan was drafted, and now even more people expected to be involved in updating the plan. She said that should serve as a vision for the town which she can adopt.

Leaders do more than listen and need to make decisions that aren’t going to please everyone all the time. While it’s the board’s job to make decisions, they should be done with an adequate explanation as to why and with transparency during the process, she said.

Some issues are emotionally charged, and the board is put into the middle of them. While opinions are expressed openly, Schmidt said that’s not a license to disrespect those you disagree with. She looks forward to thoughtful discussions where proper consideration is given to all despite individual differences.

When applying for the board vacancy, Schmidt said she wasn’t asked if she plans to run for Seat #3 next April. A decision on whether to run will come after some months on the board to “see how it goes,” she said.

“I would enjoy continuing to serve the town in some capacity. After moving here in 2004, I showed up right away and worked on the first Comprehensive Plan. It’s not my nature to sit on the sidelines,” she said.

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