Recall claims its first victim

    It's hard to blame Jacksonville Mayor Bruce Garrett for deciding to resign rather than face a recall election.

    Garrett cited what he called "hate and discord" in the historic town in explaining his choice to step down. He said what's best for Jacksonville has been eclipsed by "personal interests and coffee-shop deals."

    Garrett's resignation leaves one council member facing recall in a Jan. 18 election. Recall petitioners targeted Garrett and City Council Members Donna Schatz and Paul Becker, but organizer Hubert Smith decided not to file petitions against Becker after meeting with him.

    The impetus for the recall was the council's vote in June to increase the city's fire department surcharge by $11 a month to keep the fire department fund solvent through the end of the fiscal year. Voters had turned down a more costly combination of a surcharge increase and a property tax levy.

    Recall supporters argue the council ignored residents' wishes by increasing the water-bill surcharge after voters turned down the hybrid plan. Apparently they would prefer to see the fire department run out of money and be unable to provide adequate fire protection.

    Jacksonville maintained a mostly volunteer fire department for years, but it became difficult to sustain because too few residents were willing to devote time to training and serving as firefighters.

    We've said it before, and we'll say it again: A recall is a blunt instrument that too often does more harm than good. Recalls should be reserved for serious wrongdoing or unethical behavior, not for difficult policy decisions that some residents might oppose.

    If residents are unhappy with policies enacted by their elected representatives, the best remedy is to run against them or support a challenger in a regular election.

    The council's decision to raise the surcharge from $20 to $31 was a prudent step given the need to maintain fire protection. The measure contained a clause charging a lower amount to low-income residents and nothing at all to those at the bottom of the income scale.

    Recall supporters argue the town does not need a "boutique fire department," and note that other towns of similar size in the county are served by rural fire districts.

    That might be where Jacksonville ends up, but residents might not find that option any less expensive.

    Bashing government for spending too much money is increasingly popular these days, but the criticism would be instantly drowned out if someone's house burned down because the fire department could not respond quickly enough.

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