Should Jack Walker step down?

Jackson County commissioners' announcement last week that they were giving the county administrator new power to sign contracts stirred critical rumblings around the valley.

Such powers should rest with elected representatives, some observers said, not a hired manager. What do they think they're doing?

Here's what: They're attempting to work around Commissioner Jack Walker, who's showing increasing signs that health issues are making it difficult for him to handle his job.

We make that statement with no malice toward Walker. Although this editorial board has disagreed with him on some policy matters, disagreement is not the issue here. The issue is Walker's ongoing and progressive illness.

He had surgery more than three years ago to deal with the effects of Crohn's disease. But instead of putting his health problems to rest, it led to complications Walker has struggled with since.

Illness has taken him out of meetings, although not regularly. He is sometimes unavailable at county offices and not always well enough to govern. He is on a waiting list for a liver transplant, which was a factor in the commissioners' decision to give County Administrator Danny Jordan the expanded role.

Is it time for Walker to step down?

That's a question people who pay attention to county government already are asking and one we think commissioners ought to acknowledge and to examine publicly.

This is important for several reasons. When a county has just three commissioners as this one does, it can't assemble a quorum — meaning it can't make decisions — unless two are able to vote. Commissioner Dave Gilmour's decision to take a vacation to Samoa this fall will leave the county with two commissioners for about a month, with the real possibility that will be unavailable.

The public also needs to be part of this because of the commissioners' action last week with Jordan. The new rule, which gives him power to OK contracts of as much as $5 million on his own, comes with some limits and may not be a problem in his hands. But it's the kind of power that should come into play in a rare and unanticipated emergency, not because of a health issue that could linger for years. Constituents ought to have the opportunity to weigh in, and they ought to get straight answers when they do.

Finally, there's a legitimate issue here about how able Walker is to do the job Jackson County residents elected him to do. He is a full-time county employee who collects a salary and whose term of office lasts for two more years.

If he chooses to stay now, he and the other commissioners owe the public some clarity: about Walker's illness, about Jordan's new power and about how the commissioners plan to continue to get the job done.

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