|Conflict no deterrent
for new Hobart administrator
Willman aims to bring Oneida tribe, village
Malavika Jagannathan, Green Bay Press
HOBART — Elaine Willman isn't intimidated
by the prospect of conflict.
How much will play a role in her new job as
village administrator — to which the West
Coast native was appointed this week — remains
to be seen. But she hopes it will not
interfere in her vision in Hobart's growth and
its relationship with the Oneida Tribe of
"It's not an easy process," said Willman,
referring to easing the often-turbulent
relationship between the village and the
tribe. In face, the relationship initially
attracted her to take a newly created position
as community development director and tribal
affairs director in January. "Both governments
need to exist … coexist," she said.
Willman was hired in January for that
position, then promoted on an interim basis
when longtime village Administrator Joe
Helfenberger resigned last month to take a new
position in Iowa. She's a former City Council
member, a development director and assistant
city manager who shifted gears in 2000 to
focus on what she sees as the failings of
federal Indian policy.
On Tuesday night, the board voted to
appoint Willman to the position permanently,
increasing her current salary of $65,000 with
benefits by $10,000. It's a decision that
board member Debbie Schumacher says had always
been on the table, despite the fact that
Willman has only been with the village for two
"She has all of the skills … she was
obviously performing at the level we needed,"
Schumacher said. "I think the decision just
evolved after Joe (Helfenberger) was leaving."
No other candidates were interviewed for
the position in part because board members
"knew that's eventually where we were heading"
and thought it would be more effective to make
the position permanent sooner than later,
The decision caught Willman by surprise.
She still hasn't moved into the
administrator's office — which has been empty
since Helfenberger left — and says she'll
probably continue in her smaller workspace.
Instead of replacing her, the board has
given the go-ahead to hire an assistant,
someone who will focus on administration and
development. Because of Willman's experience
with Indian affairs, she'll continue working
on that part of her current job as
administrator, Schumacher said,
Willman first came to Hobart last fall,
giving a speech that touched on federal Indian
policy as it related to Hobart and neighboring
Oneida Tribe of Indians.
She is Cherokee, but not an enrolled
member, and she makes a clear delineation
between what she characterizes as her
"childhood affection for my own culture" and
how she views the reach of tribal governments.
"Ordinarily it is not our business (what
tribal governments do)," Willman said. "But it
becomes our business if it affects our land or
Since about 2000, when she became involved
in a citizens group that challenged the Yakima
Nation's proposal to tax a utility that
eventually went to the Washington state
Supreme Court, Willman has been involved in
various organizations that oppose tribal
sovereignty. Although she resigned her
chairmanship of the Citizens for Equal Rights
group, she remains on their board of directors
and doesn't see it as a deterrent to resolving
issues between the tribe and the village.
"That's one reason I made this very
substantial life change," Willman said of her
cross-country move. "With an intelligent
tribal government and a willing board, time
will come soon when these two governments have
to come to the table."
Still there exists a rancorous history of
litigation and breakdown of
government-to-government talks, including the
latest development — a resolution from the
tribe's business committee that essentially
ends negotiations for a service agreement.
Lance Kelley, a resident who teaches a
course on race and ethnicity at Northeast
Wisconsin Technical College, said he has some
concerns that Willman's appointment may not
facilitate cooperation between the tribe and
"(The village is) sending a very strong
message towards the tribe and definitely
standing their ground," said Kelley. "It is a
very difficult situation — there's no right
But tribal affairs will be a small portion
of her daily work. Hobart is a growing
community with long-term water needs and a
dearth of commercial development, which are
priorities, Willman said.
"We need thoughtful growth," Willman said.
"I don't just want to see another shopping
center go up."
She's looking at areas near Hobart's border
with Lawrence around Packerland Drive and
Brown County EE, where a new school and
residential development are in need of nearby
amenities such as a grocery store or bank.