The most obvious change in the planning commission director’s office since Chris Ritzmann took over is her desks.
One is a typical desk where she can sit and answer a visitor’s questions. The other is a standing desk, which she’d been using as the zoning inspector for the past four years.
Originally, it was about staying healthy. After years of using it, though, Ritzmann doesn’t like sitting if she doesn’t have to. That’s not the way she operates.
Ritzmann was confirmed by the Area Plan Commission as the new director on Feb. 29 and began work March 2.
She was one of six applicants, and one of two to be interviewed in the public meeting after the APC whittled down choices in a closed executive session. The other choice withdrew his application.
As director, Ritzmann is responsible for general administration of the day-to-day work of the APC, such as zoning enforcement, reviewing applications for permits, maintaining the APC’s records and providing information to the public.
Asked if she has any concern about the proverbial buck stopping at her desk, she responded with a light laugh.
After her time as zoning inspector, she said she’s familiar with being blamed when something does not go the way one party would like.
“I know you can’t please all the people all of the time,” Ritzmann said. “But my role is really very well-defined: I’m a presenter. Someone may not like what I’m presenting, but people have a right to make application.”
From homemaker and bookkeeper, to a retail sales representative for Nabisco, and even some time as a flight attendant, Ritzmann’s employment history shows her efforts to make a living while keeping Brown County as her home.
She’s also done some roofing and light electrical work, which gave her some perspective as zoning inspector, she said.
Ritzmann first moved to Brown County in 1982, following her first husband from Michigan.
After they divorced, she wanted to stay in Brown County for her five children, despite the difficulty of finding work close to home.
“But, over the years, I learned to love it here, and it feels like home,” she said. “And even when I go back to Michigan to visit family, that doesn’t feel like home.”
In applying for the planning director job, Ritzmann said she wanted to ensure some continuity.
“I’ve seen from all the records here what happens when major changes happen in the department, and sometimes things kind of fell through the cracks,” she said.
Among the projects she’s keeping track of is crafting a new zoning ordinance. It’s a project former planning director David Woods had hoped to complete before retiring in February.
Several years ago, a group of county residents created a comprehensive plan to guide the philosophy behind growth and development in Brown County. But the zoning laws — some of which were written in the ‘60s — don’t match up nicely with the plan, which can make enforcement tricky.
“It’s going to be a while before I can really concentrate on that, because of the learning curve, and our dockets are pretty full,” Ritzmann said. “It may be early winter.”
“We’ll definitely need a consultant, in order to make sure that we can observe state statutes and do it right the first time, but of course we’ll have citizen committees, too,” she said.
In the daily operation of her office, Ritzmann wants to maintain the “open door policy” Woods had. She liked that people did not have to make appointments to see him and often simply walked in.
She also wants to play an active role in projects such as the ongoing flood insurance map revisions. She said she doesn’t want to wait for someone else to call a meeting, or expect that another official will make certain that deadlines are met.
“It’s important to me to be fair, and I will do my best to be a good director,” she said.