RACINE COUNTY — It says something about Pamela Zenner-Richards that even though she’s the vice chair of the Racine County Board and has committed 26 years of her life to public service, she didn’t see why her not seeking re-election was newsworthy.
“Typically I’m a background player,” she said. “I don’t like to be in the spotlight — I just get to work.”
Twenty-six years ago, Zenner-Richards, was elected to represent the 12th District on the Racine City Council. She had previously worked for the Downtown Racine Corporation (then called the Downtown Racine Development Corporation) and owned B&M Machine Corporation at 1405 16th St.
“I like to know how things are made,” she said. “I loved the shop. I loved the smell of cutting oil.”
But as an alderman, she said, she discovered her love of public service.
“I think it’s a love of serving your community,” she said. “I truly think of myself as a public servant.”
After serving on the council for the three terms, she ran for and won a seat representing the 9th District for the Racine County Board, which she said has a very different perspective form the City Council.
“On the council you’re dealing with a lot of day-to-day issues, constituent issues,” she said. “On the County Board it’s more big-picture. Its longer range.”
She said there was also a lot to learn — and read — when she moved up to the county level.
“There still was a learning curve for me even though I had six years on the (City Council),” she said. “Those are real jobs that we have. I know some people may not believe that, but there’s a lot of work involved.”
But the learning curve didn’t deter her — instead she enjoyed the challenge, serving on almost all the committees and chairing a few.
“I’ve tried to do that deliberately because I thought it would make me a well-rounded legislator,” she said. “I’m a lifelong learner — I love learning about new things, I like problem-solving. It’s been a wonderful, wonderful experience for me.”
Zenner-Richards doesn’t want to take too much credit for legislation that’s passed under her watch because she said she sees it as a collaborative effort between the legislative and executive branch. She does take credit for her push to raise the county supervisor’s annual salaries, which hadn’t changed in 28 years.
The push was successful. For 2018, supervisors will get a $2,200 increase to $7,000; the vice chairman will get a $2,750 increase to $8,750; and the chairman will get a $2,700 increase to $10,500.
“The responsibilities of the job are great and I thought we should be paid a market rate,” she said. “And I’m not going to be there to enjoy it.”
Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave said Zenner-Richards will be missed on board.
“Supervisor Zenner-Richards has been an instrumental and valuable partner to the community and the county, and a mentor to me personally,” said Delagrave via email. “Her wisdom, warmth, and calm demeanor as County Board vice-chairman will be missed, and I wish her all the best in her next endeavor!”
Zenner-Richards said there were a lot of motivations behind her decision not to run this spring — wanting to spend more time with family, a chance to try new things and finding a successor she felt had the right motivations in Eric Hillery, who is running unopposed for her seat. She also felt that it was just time to move on.
“I never felt that one should grow roots in those seats,” she said. “Overall I have 26 years of public service. I was brought up to believe in public service, to contribute to community I live in, and I thought it was time to step aside.”
Time for herself
One of the first things she said she looks forward to is reading something for fun.
“The county supervisor’s job requires a lot of reading,” she said. “I’d like to read some things that I haven’t had a chance to. I’ve got a couple of books that have been sitting looking at me.”
But that doesn’t mean she’s slowing down. Zenner-Richards works part-time at the county’s Workforce Solutions Center at 1717 Taylor Ave. and plans to stay on the Gateway Technical College Board, on which she served since 2000. She’s also open to seeing what else is out there.
“I still have a lot on my plate and I like it like that — I thrive in that kind of environment,” she said. “I still have juice — I’m not done. I just can’t tell you what I’m going to do yet.”