Dane County Executive Joe Parisi to Retire from Public Service in May of 2024
October 04, 2023
Ariana Vruwink, 608-267-8823
Long Serving County Leader Reflects on Accomplishments of Almost 13 Years
of Running Dane County
Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced today he intends to retire next year from the position he was first elected to over a dozen years ago. Parisi’s upcoming retirement caps decades of public service in a community he was born and raised in. A tireless advocate for those most vulnerable and natural resources that contribute to Dane County’s incredible quality of life, Parisi created innovative services like mental health teams in schools and prioritized conservation, renewable energy, and improving water quality. His work to mitigate the contributors of climate change and prepare and adapt to its impacts began shortly after he took office, positioning Dane County to recently become the fourth county in the entire United States to achieve 100% renewable status through its generation of clean energy. As he departs, the county is now on a trajectory to achieve net-zero carbon emissions decades ahead of others.
“Serving my community as County Executive has been one of the greatest honors of my life, and I’m grateful beyond words for the trust my hometown has put in me over the past 12 years,” Parisi said. “This work has been purely a team effort, with my staff, county employees, and our partners throughout the community rising to the occasion time and again to ensure our community’s values of watching out for one another and protecting our natural environment have been respected and acted upon.”
Parisi was first elected County Executive in April 2011 in a special election to fill out the remainder of a term started by former County Executive Kathleen Falk. Parisi was subsequently elected to full terms as Executive in 2013, 2017, and 2021. He ran unopposed in 2013 and 2017 and received nearly 79% of the vote in the 2021 campaign. Prior to his service as County Executive, Parisi served as Dane County Clerk from 1996 to 2004 and represented the east side of Madison, Monona, McFarland, and the Towns of Dunn and Blooming Grove in the Wisconsin State Assembly from 2005 until his election to his current role as County Executive.
Parisi has overseen day-to-day operations of county government in the fastest growing county in Wisconsin through a period of immense growth. Dane County has added nearly 100,000 new residents in his time as County Executive. That’s created opportunity but also new levels of service demands. Parisi will depart office next year having grown the county’s annual budget for human services related programming – aging, addiction and treatment services, homelessness, kids and families, and other vulnerable populations – to over $282 million per year.
When Parisi was first elected as Executive, Dane County government was reeling from the impacts of a national great recession. County finances were at their lowest levels in decades, resulting in a need for shared sacrifice to rebuild resources needed to support the needs of a rapidly growing community. Today, Dane County’s rainy-day fund is at its highest level ever, helping to protect county services from the risk of economic downturn or other global events outside of the control of local officials that would otherwise greatly impact the county’s budget.
Among his accomplishments, Parisi developed the popular “Dane County Suck the Muck” initiative that’s removed thousands of tons of decades old sludge from area waterways that otherwise contribute to poor water quality. He created the Dane County Office of Equity and Inclusion and county government’s first capacity to address criminal justice reform and re-entry several years ago. He built a program with local schools to help children living in poverty overcome the financial difficulties of earning a driver’s license and a partnership between Dane County Parks and Operation Fresh Start to help young people develop job skills while improving the outdoor spaces in which we play. Parisi also acquired the former Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce building and converted it into the county’s first homeless day resource center, known as “The Beacon.” This facility has served hundreds of individuals and families over the years who struggle with homelessness and housing insecurity.
Parisi completed incredibly popular parks and recreation projects like the first phase of the Lower Yahara River Trail linking Madison and McFarland, with plans for the second phase of the project now complete so that construction can begin on it in the coming months. He added miles of on- and off-road bike paths and lanes, improving safety and creating more opportunities for families to get outside. His Dane County Continuous Cover program has converted hundreds of acres into cover crops and prairies, slowing erosion, reducing carbon emissions and the risk of flooding.
Parisi has grown the county’s Affordable Housing Development Fund and overseen extensive building projects like Dane County’s East District Campus, which houses the Highway Department and Medical Examiner’s Office, and soon will be the location of a new $35 million Dane County 911 Center. He’s forged partnerships like one with World Dairy Expo and the State of Wisconsin that resulted in the construction of 300,000 square feet of new pavilions for agricultural events at the Alliant Energy Center and a long-term contract extension for the world’s largest dairy exhibition show.
Parisi navigated county government and the community through the Covid-19 pandemic, keeping the community safe while creating nationally unique programs that reinvested tens of millions of dollars into struggling, local small businesses. He also authored the popular Dane County Farm to Foodbank program, linking local farmers and producers with those in our community who struggle to meet basic needs, like access to food for their families. That program will continue with an additional $6 million in funding in the 2024 Dane County budget Parisi recently introduced.
“There are a lot of challenges in the world today, but we have much to be grateful for in a community so full of empathy, talent, and generosity,” Parisi said. “Doing this work requires a lot of partners and a shared ‘can-do’ spirit of collaboration, and together we have accomplished a great deal. I’m forever grateful for the trust and opportunity to lead, advocate for, and give voice to those who face challenges like behavioral health, racism, poverty, homelessness, and addiction.”
Parisi is planning to retire in May of 2024, allowing him several more months to make progress on key initiatives he’s spearheading, including beginning implementation of the county’s recently completed roadmap to becoming carbon neutral, expanding access to critical mental health services, and jumpstarting the next round of initiatives focused on improved water quality and lake clean-up efforts.