Beaufort County voters will consider a new form of government allowing the county’s top administrator to appoint the treasurer and auditor.
A referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot asks voters to consider switching from the current council-administrator form of government to a council-manager system.
“The only substantive difference between those two forms of government ... is that the auditor and treasurer would be appointed by the county manager to those positions rather than being elected by the citizens of the county,” explained county attorney Josh Gruber.
Under the current system, whoever holds the title of auditor or treasurer runs that department, makes personnel decisions and sets his or her employees’ salaries.
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If the referendum passes, the county manager would appoint the treasurer and auditor and oversee those departments.
County Council voted to place the referendum on the ballot last year. County officials described the proposal as a “reaction” to embezzlement in the Treasurer’s Office between 2007 and 2008. Two people pleaded guilty last year to stealing $210,000 in public money.
Work quality from those departments also has been an issue over the years, said Councilman Jerry Stewart.
The Auditor’s Office is responsible for calculating each property owner’s annual tax bill. The Treasurer’s Office sends out the bills, collects the money and invests it, according to county spokeswoman Joy Nelson. Current rules require candidates only to live in the county and be at least 18.
“The big thing is, there are no qualifications for these positions,” Stewart said. “They don’t have to have experience in finance, they don’t have to have managerial experience, yet they manage this office where you have almost three quarters of a billion in funds go through it every year.”
Stewart said the proposal is “not a referendum” on treasurer Doug Henderson, who was elected in 2010 after the embezzlement was discovered. Stewart said Henderson is doing a “fabulous job.”
Even so, Henderson is an outspoken opponent of the referendum. He says the current system has worked well for a long time and shouldn’t be scrapped because of one “unique situation.”
“Voters of this county do not need to be denied their right to vote or elect anyone,” he said this week. “I feel like it has got to be separation powers. That’s why the system is set up the way it is, and in order to maintain that, those positions have been elected.”
If the measure passes, auditor Sharon Burris and Henderson will be allowed to continue their terms, which are up in 2014. At that point, the county manager would choose their successors.