County posts should be appointed

Jackson County commissioners John Rachor and Don Skundrick had barely finished reciting the oath of office in January when they brought up an issue many voters had raised with them on the campaign trail: converting the county assessor, clerk and surveyor from elected to appointed positions. Commissioner C.W. Smith agreed the move made sense, and voters will have their say May 17.

Ballot Measures 15-106, 15-107 and 15-108 would amend the county charter to make the three positions appointed.

We said in January that there was no compelling reason the three posts needed to be elective. We see no reason to change that opinion now, and we recommend a yes vote on each measure.

None of the three officials has the power to make or change public policy or laws. Each position requires a specific set of professional qualifications.

The proposals have drawn considerable attention, generating a number of letters to the editor accusing the commissioners of wanting to take power away from the people. Skundrick and Rachor have taken some heat for proposing the change.

That public debate is precisely why commissioners are elected and ought to continue to be, and why the other three positions should be appointed.

Commissioners vote to change county ordinances, implement new policies and discontinue old ones. In this case, because it involves a change to the county charter, a public vote also is required.

But the assessor, clerk and surveyor have no such power. They must perform the duties of their offices by following state and county laws enacted by other elected officials. They have no power over their budgets, either; they must request spending authority from the commissioners just like every other county department head.

A homeowner upset over the valuation of his property may direct his anger at the assessor, but the assessor doesn't determine the tax code, he merely carries it out, and supervises a team of appraisers who value properties according to strict rules.

The county clerk conducts elections, so some argue the position could be subject to political pressure if the clerk were appointed. But the clerk would be hired by and report to the county administrator, not to the commissioners. And the clerk must follow state election laws designed to ensure fairness and accuracy. The rest of the job consists of supervising a clerical staff that maintains public records of births, deaths, marriages, property transfers and the like.

The surveyor is little more than a technician, using specialized training to perform property surveys.

Ballots will be mailed — by the county clerk's office, following state law — on Friday. We recommend a yes vote on measures 15-106, 15-107 and 15-108.

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