Wisconsin Geospatial News

The WLIB: What direction now?

February 4 was a red-letter day for the Land Information Board as it marked its first face-to-face meeting in 10 months. As we have mentioned a number of times in the Bulletin this past year, board meetings were delayed in 2003 waiting for Governor Doyle to announce new appointments.

So now the selection of a full board has been completed and all appointees were confirmed by the State Senate on February 3. With the six new appointments by the governor plus three new representatives from state agencies, the board has nine new members within its ranks of fifteen.

With ten months of inactivity and 60% new members, many are asking where the board (and the Land Information Program) is headed and what will be on its agenda in the next year. These certainly are valid questions.

Sunset date looms
Probably the most pressing issue facing the board, and one that it has faced three times over the past 15 years, is the “sunset” which is now scheduled for September 1, 2005. As was required of the board and the Wis. Land Council two years ago in preparation for the then 2003 sunset, both bodies must develop a report analyzing past achievements and future directions. The new report is due September 1 this year. Many people expended major amounts of effort to prepare the 125-page report in 2003 which then received scant attention when delivered to the legislature and governor 18 months ago, and just prior to the general election in which a new governor was selected.

In the intervening nearly two years a number of things have changed that affect the Board’s activities and effectiveness. Perhaps most notable is the demise of the DOA’s Office of Land Information Services (OLIS). OLIS, which was the administrative arm of the Board and Council, no longer exists, having been collapsed into a reorganized and renamed Division of Intergovernmental Relations (DIR). Where in the past OLIS had the equivalent of 2-3 people to deal with WLIB issues, there is now the equivalent of about 1-2. Within the DIR, the WLIB, Land Council, and Coastal Management Program are supported as a group by a Resource Policy Team headed by Mike Blaska, the former head of OLIS. Mike still continues as the Executive Director of both the WLIB and the Land Council.

County plans need updating
Another issue needing immediate attention by the board is action concerning county land records modernization plans. These are the documents prepared on a five-year cycle by each county with the purpose of laying out goals and schedules of land records modernization. These plans are reviewed and approved by the board. An approved plan is required for a county to be eligible to receive grants from the board. Nearly all current county plans were approved by the board in the 1998-99 time period, so a major revision process is upon us. Very soon the Board will have to decide how it wants to proceed in developing new plan preparation instructions, and how it will evaluate submitted plans considering there are few staff to do this work.

State agency coordination is essential
Eleven state agencies are required by statute to annually prepare and submit land information plans to the Board. Increasingly, the agencies are developing these plans as part of their broader information technology plans and strategies. The Board in the past has not effectively reviewed the state agency plans which has not helped support data development and integration within and between most agencies.

Recently, the Technology Leadership Council, a group chartered within the WI Dept. Of Administration has taken steps to create a Geographic Information Working Group. The group’s areas of responsibility, authority, and membership has yet to be determined. However, I am hopeful that this group will be an effective channel for focusing attention on GIS within state government, and that in conjunction with the WLIB it can make some amount of progress that the WLIB has been largely unable to accomplish over the past decade.