Beaufort News

Elected or appointed treasurer, auditor? Voters may get to decide

Voters might have the opportunity to decide whether Beaufort County's auditor and treasurer -- who are currently elected -- should be appointed.

County Council approved a measure on the second of three readings Monday that would add a referendum question to November's ballot.

If approved by voters, the county would switch its form of government from "council-administrator" to "council-manager." The two systems, detailed by South Carolina law, are nearly identical. But under the council-manager form, the county auditor and treasurer can be appointed.

Treasurer Doug Henderson and Auditor Sharon Burris both spoke against the proposal at the meeting.

Switching forms of government was floated in 2010 as a way to restore accountability to the Treasurer's Office after an employee there was arrested and accused of embezzling $210,000.

Henderson, who defeated incumbent Joy Logan last year, said voters did a fine job holding her accountable on their own.

"Those issues were brought to light, and the public spoke," Henderson said. "This is, I believe, as it should be, and should continue to be: Decisions made by the people."

Burris said everyone she has spoken to about the issue has opposed "taking away our right and privilege to vote for an elected person."

Councilman Stu Rodman argued that the auditor and treasurer are "relatively technical positions" that primarily administer the law, that the four years between elections dampens accountability, and that centralizing monetary functions under one chief financial officer would be a "much better financial practice."

Councilman Jerry Stewart said the issue deserved further deliberation. He acknowledged that voters can only choose among those who run for office, but he hopes "the political parties take this to heart and do go out and work very hard to find the best-qualified people for the position."

Some council members had been under the impression that the referendum would only be an advisory opinion, but that isn't the case, said council Chairman Weston Newton.

"If 50 percent of the people voting in the election -- plus one -- voted 'yes,' then the council would be obligated to change their form of government," Newton said. "It's a binding referendum once you put this question to the voters."

The motion was approved 10-1, with Stewart dissenting.

Let voters decide county's form of government, committee says, Sept. 6, 2011