Charter change makes sense

Newly elected Jackson County Commissioners John Rachor and Don Skundrick are already making their presence felt on the three-member board. The two brought up an issue last week that voters had raised with them on the campaign trail: converting three elected county positions into appointed department heads.

The idea is not new; many counties already have taken the step of changing their charters to appoint rather than elect the county assessor, clerk and surveyor. Jackson County voters made the change for the office of county treasurer in 1999.

The rationale for appointing the assessor, clerk and surveyor is essentially the same as the case for appointing the county's top financial officer: The jobs are professional and technical in nature, not political.

That's especially true of the clerk, who is charged in part with running elections in a nonpartisan and unbiased manner. The rest of the job involves maintaining official records such as births, marriages and property transfers — a clerical function that has no political component.

The assessor's job is to carry out the valuation of property in the county under strict state laws that dictate how it shall be done. Managing a staff of 35 professionals is one of the position's chief functions.

Of the three current officeholders, Assessor Dan Ross is the only one who says he opposes the change. Ross says the proposal is "one more thing where the government is trying to take something out of the hands of the people."

If the assessor had control over policy matters, we might tend to agree. But he doesn't.

Ross says the position is a lightning rod in the debate over assessment and property-rights issues, so it's better to have someone directly answerable to the people. But the assessor has no power to change the rules, only to enforce them.

A candidate for a political office such as state legislator or county commissioner can promise voters he or she will work to keep their taxes low or vote to allocate money to a particular government service. But the assessor has no control over the level of taxation or how the money is spent.

The surveyor's position is also suited to being appointed. As Surveyor Kerry Bradshaw points out, electing the position dates back to a time when the surveyor did private survey jobs, and was elected to make sure he was fair and honest.

It is difficult at best for voters to evaluate the professional qualifications of candidates for highly technical positions. It's also hard for candidates to differentiate themselves from their opponents except to compare professional resumes.

The heads of other county departments such as public works and planning are appointed. We see no reason why these three positions should not be, as well.

Share This Story