Editorials

Don't drop idea of changing county's form of government

Doug Henderson is doing what he can to hit the ground running when he takes over as Beaufort County treasurer July 1.

Henderson has started to put together a new team to handle the $200 million banking job that falls to the treasurer. He's vowed to put in place better systems for collecting and paying out the public's money. He's visiting treasurer's offices across the state to find the best practices.

And after repeated critical audits of outgoing treasurer Joy Logan's operations, that is all welcome news. Logan has held the office since 1991, and the past year particularly showed it was time for her to go.

But because there's such a long time between Henderson's election in November and his taking over duties as treasurer, the county will pick up the tab for his transition staff. The expected cost is $50,000 to $100,000.

It's unfortunate to think we might be double-paying for that office's employees, but it's difficult to see a better way to handle it, given the need for a clean break from many past practices and Logan's continuing in her job for another five months.

County administrator Gary Kubic is right that an abrupt transition in such an important office could be very disruptive to one of the most critical of county offices.

So yes, under the circumstances, this is probably the way to go. But that doesn't mean there's not a better long-term solution for this administrative office.

Before and immediately after Logan's defeat, there was talk about changing the treasurer's job from an elected position to an appointed one. Her impending departure doesn't mean that idea should go away.

We'll say it again: Accountability just once every four years for critical county administrative positions isn't enough. Minimal requirements of being 18 or 21, a registered voter and a resident of the county aren't enough. County treasurer, auditor, coroner, clerk of court and probate judge require specific skill sets that are difficult to vet in a political process.

They don't make policy; they administer the law. County Council controls their budgets, but little else.

Council members should look seriously at a change in government that would allow at least two key positions -- treasurer and auditor -- to be appointed rather than elected.

State law allows four types of county government, and each has slightly different rules. Under our type of government, council-administrator, the treasurer and auditor are elected. If we had the council-manager form of government, County Council could choose whether it wanted to appoint people to those jobs or hold an election.

Changing the form of government would require council to hold two public hearings and three votes before the question could appear on a referendum. That gives the people of Beaufort County ample opportunity to say what they want.

We have the council-administrator form of government because the legislature determined it was the closest to the form of government in place when the Home Rule Act when into effect in 1976.

This should not be construed as criticism of Henderson. He'll have his chance to prove his worth in the office. But it's time the people of this county decided what kind of government they want and whether at least these two offices should be staff positions rather than elective offices.

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