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Wednesday, August 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 76.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
The Paper
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Executive decision: Scott McDonell, the insider
McDonell says he's proven he can be creative and do more with less.
McDonell says he's proven he can be creative and do more with less.

Age: 41
Birthplace: Washington, D.C.
Experience: Dane County supervisor since 1996, board chair since 2005; part-time analyst for the Department of Administration; played soccer for UW-Madison.

Scott McDonell says he has a clear advantage in the race for county executive: As a county supervisor for 14 years, including five as the board chair, McDonell knows the workings of county government inside and out. He won't be "trying to learn county government in a couple of weeks."

And, as McDonell told the audience at the first candidate forum in Oregon on Jan. 16, "You don't have to wonder what my priorities are going to be - you can just look it up."

Indeed, McDonell says his current position as board chair isn't that much different from county executive; he's learned to be creative and do more with less.

"We spend more per capita on human services than anyone in the state. We're proud of that," he says. "But you can't put it all on property taxes."

As board chair, McDonell led an audit of the justice system. At the time, the jail was severely overcrowded and there was a proposal to add three floors, which would have cost between $40 million and $73 million and required another $10 million a year to staff.

McDonell resisted, backing the audit's call for cheaper solutions. The county expedited getting inmates into court and improved the hearing notification process, reducing the number of people arrested on bench warrants for missing court dates. Now the jail is making money, by housing inmates from other counties and the state.

To deal with pending state cuts, McDonell calls for building coalitions with other counties, cities and interest groups, such as senior citizens, noting, "I have relationships with counties around the state."

McDonell has helped advance the county's progressive agenda. "I'm really proud of having created the first county domestic partner registry," he says. "In the budgets I've prioritized funding for the homeless, working with drug and alcohol addictions, and [treating] mental illness."

Some candidates question the county's continued commitment to buying land for preservation amid a major recession. McDonell disagrees: "We did scale back a little bit, but we found we could get some good prices on land that we wanted to protect." He notes that the UW Arboretum was purchased at the height of the Great Depression.

McDonell believes the county needs to take a regional approach to transportation issues, whether through expanded buses or commuter rail. "Traffic does not respect boundaries," he says. "You've got 6,000 people moving to the county each year. You've got to plan for the future."

As county executive, McDonell would push for even more progressive ideas, including a revolving loan fund to help homeowners make their houses more energy efficient.

"I love Dane County because of the values we share," he says. "Fairness, equality, protecting those who are most vulnerable. Those are the values of Dane County."

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