Mansky ’77 an elections expert

Joe Mansky never expected he’d become an elections expert.

After graduating from UW-Green Bay with an Environmental Science degree in 1977, Mansky worked as a hydrologist in Omaha, Neb. When his employer later went out of business, and amid an economic recession, Mansky moved to Minnesota figuring he’d have to do something else.

Now, he says, “I’ve been doing something else for 27 years.”

That “something else” started when Mansky took a chance job with the Minnesota Office of the Secretary of State, and evolved into his current status as one of Minnesota’s foremost election pros. As Elections Manager for Ramsey County, where the State Capitol of St. Paul is located, he’s overseen and advised on contentious recounts and controversial proposals.

With the landmark 2000 presidential election, he watched the position of elections official transform from behind-the-scenes worker to highly scrutinized public figure.

“That was the real watershed for us, the year 2000, (in) the Bush v. Gore race in Florida,” Mansky said, referring to that year’s too-close-to-call presidential contest. “For people that work in the elections world, that’s kind of like the Year One. Before that, this was not a high-profile role. Now the activities that we conduct are very high-profile, especially here in Minnesota.”

And also in Wisconsin, Mansky noted, because elections in both states have been close and contentious as of late. He still keeps in touch with friends in Green Bay, Milwaukee and Madison, and Mansky has been following the historic Wisconsin recalls and other turns of events during recent years.

Mansky watched with interest, for example, the Waukesha County vote miscount that led to the statewide recount in last year’s state Supreme Court race. Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus initially submitted incomplete vote totals that made it appear challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg had ousted incumbent David Prosser. In the end, the reverse turned out to be true.

“Anytime that something like that happens to somebody who is doing similar work, that tends to make all of us look bad,” Mansky said. “All we can do is double down on what we’re doing to make sure what we’re doing is correct all the time. … The public expects us to be 100 percent accurate, 100 percent of the time.”

That can be a lot of pressure, but also a lot of power, as Mansky is on the cutting edge of what’s next in voter trends and technology. Minnesota and Wisconsin have grappled with similar issues, such as voter ID, in recent months, and Mansky could be part of the former state’s solution to the problem.

Minnesota voters will take up a voter photo ID measure in a November referendum, but Mansky and many of his cohorts believe there’s a better way. In March, he testified before the state’s Committee on Finance about the proposal.

“As an administrator,” Mansky said, “my view is this: I am not of the view that you need to demonstrate your eligibility to me.” Among his concerns, Mansky said, is that looking at a photo ID is subjective, and there are better ways — and better technologies to use — to definitively establish someone’s identity. (After Voter ID became law in Wisconsin in 2011, two judges issued injunctions that kept it from being enforced when Badger State voters went to the polls in April.)

Among the biggest issues Mansky has overseen are the 2008 U.S. Senate recount, in which Democrat Al Franken narrowly bested Norm Coleman; and the 2010 gubernatorial cliffhanger that saw Democrat Mark Dayton eke out a win over Republican Tom Emmer.

These days, he’s keeping an eye on Wisconsin’s unprecedented recall elections, but doesn’t have to worry Minnesota will go down a similar path. That state’s law demands an allegation of misconduct to prompt a recall, which can’t be conducted for political purposes, Mansky said.

And although he’s taken an unexpected route to get there, Mansky says his UW-Green Bay education ensured he was well prepared for his current role. He still recalls the interdisciplinary activities of what used to be termed “Liberal Education Seminars,” and how they helped him to think critically and prepare for his unexpected career.

“The interdisciplinary approach was really valuable to me,” Mansky said, “and then, second, just the training in sciences, which teaches you to learn facts and see the facts for what they are. … I use those skills every day.”

Alumni Rising: EMBI Symposium honors Harris

Victoria HarrisIf you love to fish local rivers and streams, view wildlife in a nearby wetland or just sit on the bank of a waterway and enjoy the view, your gratitude should be extended, in part, to Victoria Harris.

The longtime water quality and habitat restoration specialist with the UW Sea Grant Institute on the UW-Green Bay campus has dedicated her life to clean water.

When her alma mater, UW-Green Bay, (she holds bachelor’s, 1974 and master’s 1998, degrees in environmental sciences) planned to honor an alumnus as part of its 2012 Green Innovations Conference during Earth Week, the Harris name rose to the top of the list.

Victoria Harris feature story

She will be presented the Alumni Earth Caretaker Award, which recognizes graduates who have gone on to influential careers in sustainability and environmental fields. Although the award recognizes a UWGB alumnus, Harris’s husband, and retired UW-Green Bay faculty member Bud Harris, will also be recognized. Much of their work was (and continues) in tandem.

Organizers of the Environmental Management and Business Institute (EMBI) set this year’s theme as “Water — past, present and future.” The three-day symposium (April 18-20) has breakout sessions on water-related businesses, regulations, economic development and groundwater, along with opportunities to tour Renard Island, water-recycling facilities at Green Bay Packaging, and Green Bay and Fox River cleanup sites. (Click here for more information on the 2012 Green Innovations Conference.)

When Harris retired from the Sea Grant Institute a year ago, media relations personnel captured the essence of her work and career. With permission, the feature follows:

June 23, 2011
By Aaron R. Conklin

She took a 17-year detour, but in the end, Vicky Harris simply couldn’t stay away from the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant.

It’s the organization that gave Harris one of her first jobs, and will now be the organization where she holds one of her last. After serving as UW Sea Grant’s water quality and habitat specialist for the last dozen years, Harris retires at the end of June.

She does so in the wake of a 37-year career devoted to protecting and restoring the environment in and around Green Bay. Those who worked with her — and given how many projects she helmed, we’re talking about a lot of people — knew her as a tireless dynamo, a coalition-builder who routinely had her firm hand steering multiple projects at once. Last year, the Nature Conservancy jointly honored Harris and her longtime collaborator, former UW Sea Grant sub-programmer, and husband Bud Harris with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

“Vicky is a part of that select group that works tirelessly and effectively to preserve and improve the environment in Wisconsin,” said Anders Andren, UW Sea Grant director. “She made it her personal and lifelong mission, and her tireless work ethic was a genuine inspiration to all of us.”

Harris has always loved the environment, and the waters of Lake Michigan. Harris remembers being a young girl, boating the stagnant and befouled waters of the Fox River with her family. While navigating the Fox River locks system, Harris’ mother had her children wear rubber gloves to keep them from touching the slime molds and bacteria coating the lock walls.

Still, Harris was an unlikely conservationist. She actually studied pre-med as an undergrad. In 1971, she transferred from UW-Madison, where riots and protests were rocking the campus, to UW-Green Bay. It was there that she took a job with John Pezetta, an oceanographer who was using UW Sea Grant funding to study sediments around nuclear and coal-fired power plants on Lake Michigan and Green Bay.

You could call it love at first sample.

“I was so enamored of working on lakes, and so interested in natural sciences,” recalled Harris. “That really turned my head.”

After spending a few years working as a student intern for the Brown County Planning Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Harris became UW Sea Grant’s first Green Bay-based agent. Two of her earliest endeavors eventually became transformational: working with scientists and stakeholders to develop the first-ever ecosystem research and outreach strategy for Green Bay, and an ecosystem rehabilitation plan for the bay. Eight years later, she would use this experience to coordinate the Green Bay and Fox River Remedial Action Plan (RAP) for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

“We were the first of 43 RAPs in the Great Lakes to be approved by the International Joint Commission,” said Harris. “We created a series of technical and stakeholder committees, and we engaged a lot of people. That approach was lauded by IJC and the Green Bay RAP became a model for others that followed. The RAP was also a launching pad for the largest PCB cleanup in U.S. history.”

Harris’s first stint with UW Sea Grant only lasted a brief two years; in early 1980, she left to take a job with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Minnesota. When the Reagan administration swept into office in the early 1980s, Harris, like a lot of federal employees, was swept out of a job. She eventually landed back in Green Bay, where she would spend the next 17 years working for the Department of Natural Resources. Then, in 1999, she returned to UW Sea Grant.

She brought back with her the careful process of public engagement she’d used to accomplish projects throughout her career, including a decade of assistance to the port of Green Bay on plans to restore Green Bay’s Cat Island Chain, a habitat project that makes beneficial use of dredged material. For the past four years she has co-chaired the Lake Michigan LaMP Forum, a group of stakeholders helping U.S. EPA promote lakewide restoration. She also chaired an outreach team to involve the public in a total maximum daily load project for the Fox River, a DNR plan to curtail phosphorous and suspended solids levels in the waters where she’d boated as a child.

“Even then, people knew phosphorus was a major pollutant for the river and bay,” said Harris.

More recently, Harris, working in conjunction with the Wisconsin Marina Association, has spearheaded Wisconsin’s Clean Marina program, a statewide effort designed to promote environmentally responsible boating and marina management practices. In the first year and a half, a whopping 28 marinas have joined the program and 11 were certified as Clean Marinas by adopting the program-required practices. As many as six more are expected to receive certification during her final week with Sea Grant.

Harris’s Sea Grant work gave her opportunities to travel the world, visiting countries like Sweden, China, Trinidad-Tobago, Peru and Ecuador, where she discovered that human activity, no matter where it occurs, creates the same types of environmental and water resource issues.

Those who expect Harris to simply disappear from Green Bay’s environmental scene probably haven’t been paying attention.

“I enjoy working with people who care about the future of our planet and our environment,” said Harris. “I don’t expect I’ll ever give it up.”

Golfer has interest in environmental science

Golf and environmentalism are not often thought of as going hand in hand. But for UW-Green Bay senior Austin Ehlenfeldt, these two passions intersect in shaping his future. Ehlenfeldt is both a UW-Green Bay golfer and an Environmental Science major who studies with Prof. John Katers. He recently had the opportunity to experience sustainable business practices in a real-world industrial setting. Some day, he’d like to carry that interest into the golf industry. Click here for the interesting feature story.

News video celebrates UW-Green Bay’s environmental heritage

UW-Green Bay officials are sharing a new video with key constituencies in an effort to reaffirm the University’s historic commitment to leadership on environmental issues. Reporter Robert Hornacek looks at the past, present and future of “Eco U” in a six-minute piece up in rotation on the main homepage. Prof. Emeritus Bud Harris narrates an early overview, and Dan Madigan of FEECO International helps make the case that, nowadays, “Eco U” and the “green” in Green Bay mean economics as well as ecology. Great video. Click here to see it.

Eco U? It’s one of our trademarks, officially

UW-Green Bay now holds legal rights to the words “Eco U.” The move both honors the University’s ecological roots and protects the institution’s right to the nickname first bestowed upon it four decades ago (see below). Chancellor Thomas Harden says don’t expect any immediate changes because of the trademark. The University had legal counsel Dan Spielmann pursue the procedure in order to protect the term for the future. “I didn’t want to get in a situation where we were prohibited from using it,” Harden said. “It makes sense to trademark it given our long history and commitment to the environment.”

Nickname dates to 1970s

UW-Green Bay, described as America’s first environmental university, where every day was Earth Day, was called “Eco U” shortly after its founding roughly 40 years ago. The University was dubbed “Eco U” by Harper’s Magazine, Newsweek and other national and regional media in the early 1970s. The nickname came about in large part because of the University’s multidisciplinary approach to solving environmental problems. As former interim Chancellor David Ward once put it: “We were green long before green became mainstream.” That tradition continues today with the Environmental Management and Business Institute, strong undergraduate and graduate programs in environmental science and policy, the ongoing development of the 290-acre Cofrin Memorial Arboretum and many other sustainability programs.

Who? Petrashek’s owl research earns Sager award

If you haven’t yet read the story (there’s also a cute picture), featured in rotation on the main UW-Green Bay website this week is a story on the owl research completed by Environmental Science and biology student Kari Petrashek. She’s the winner of the Paul and Thea Sager Scholarship for the year’s best research paper, “Northern Saw-whet Owl Fall Migration through  Woodland Dunes Nature Center and Preserve in Two Rivers, Wis. from 2000-2008.” It’s a nice example of student research, click here.

Prof. Dutch talks about Afghanistan

UW-Green Bay Prof. Steven Dutch was a special guest Thursday (Dec. 3) for the Green Bay Press-Gazette’s weekly editorial board online chat. Dutch, who teaches in Natural and Applied Sciences, but whose resume also includes more than 20 years of military service including time spent in Turkey and in the first Gulf War, discussed with editors and readers President Obama’s decision to commit more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. Read a transcript of Prof. Dutch’s very interesting chat.

Reminder: Climate Change capstone

On Tuesday (Dec. 1) graduate students from the UW-Green Bay Capstone Seminar in Environmental Science and Policy will present their work to the campus and the local community. The subject is Climate Change Wisconsin: What it Means for Us. The presentation, from 7 to 8 p.m. in MAC Hall 208, will cover the most current scientific projections related to climate change for the state and especially Northeastern Wisconsin, and potential environmental, social and economic impacts. A story about the session is featured on the Green Bay Press-Gazette’s “Green Page.”

UW-Green Bay’s Davis heading for Germany

Mathematics Prof. Greg Davis, chair of UW-Green Bay’s Natural and Applied Sciences academic unit, has been invited to travel to Hessen, Germany for a 10-day trip beginning Saturday (Nov. 14). Davis and business Prof. Claire Kilian of UW-River Falls will visit a half dozen German universities to facilitate student exchanges and study-abroad collaborations. While there, the UW System faculty members will participate in interviews with student applicants seeking state support (from Hessen, also known as “Hesse”) for their studies in Wisconsin. Davis and Kilian will also visit academic departments in their areas of interest to discuss mutual research interests and possible topics of student or faculty exchange. Upon their return, the UW educators will be available as resources for faculty members and campuses statewide interested in pursuing Hessen-Wisconsin collaborations. All expenses for their visit are being paid for by the German state.