Sharon Corrigan is making history as the newly elected chair of the Dane County Board. Only one other woman -- Mary Louise Symon -- has held the post, serving from 1974 to 1980.
Corrigan was elected chair by her colleagues Tuesday at a noontime meeting of the board. The reelection of vice chair Carousel Bayrd made for another first -- this will be the only time women have occupied both top leadership posts on the board.
Supervisor Nick Zweifel made the motion to nominate Corrigan. "It’s time we have a true progressive leader from outside the city borders of Madison," he said. "If we want to call ourselves a progressive board," he added, "it’s time we put our money where our mouth is. It’s time we have a female chair, which we haven’t had since the 1970s."
When Corrigan took her place on the dais, she made a commitment to take the job "seriously."
She said she was drawn to the work of the board because of the impact its decisions have on residents and the community as a whole. "Whether you can get to work on a county road; whether you can access services in a time of need and whether you can enjoy the beauty of this county."
Corrigan, who represents the Middleton area, was first elected to the board in 2010. She most recently served as Sergeant at Arms.
She says in an interview that she spoke to a lot of people after John Hendrick decided not to seek reelection as board chair.
"I was interested in running for chair, and there was support for having a new face as county board chair," says Corrigan.
Corrigan says she honed the skills needed to run the board while helping craft the county budget as chair of the Personnel and Finance Committee. The panel also oversees all hiring, contracts and union negotiations.
Corrigan is described by colleagues and board observers as hard-working and honest.
Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell, who was chair of the board for eight years, says Corrigan "helps other people get what they want to get done. Her approach is to find a way to solve a problem and move forward. That is what she is really good at."
Supervisor Chuck Erickson, who serves with Corrigan on the Lakes and Watershed Commission, also recommended her as "detailed" and "diplomatic" on her LinkedIn page.
Corrigan says diplomacy has certainly been required in her work on the budget.
"I've tried to be diplomatic because not everybody gets what they want," she says.
Corrigan will be leading a progressive caucus that dominates the 37-member board -- only seven members are considered moderate or conservative.
That will present its own set of challenges.
"It gives us the ability to move forward on progressive issues," she says. "At the same time we'll have to figure out which [issues] need to move forward."
Corrigan says her priorities include cleaning up Dane County's lakes. "I really have come to believe that the health of the lakes is tied closely to the health of the economy and Dane County," she says.
She is also interested in making concrete progress in addressing the large racial disparities that exist in the county. "We need to identify and work towards solutions that are real solutions, whether it's finding jobs or keeping youth out of the criminal justice system. I think it's an issue whose time has come, and we have to continue to invest in that."
Corrigan says she has long been active in getting more women elected to public office. While living in Illinois, she was active in the Illinois Women's Institute for Leadership, and has also worked with the state and national chapters of Emerge, which trains Democratic women for elected office.
"Government works best when you have representatives of everybody involved in the process," says Corrigan.