A Beaufort County Council committee was correct to recommend that voters decide if the county should change its form of government so that the auditor and treasurer can be appointed instead of elected.
The proposed referendum, recommended unanimously Tuesday by the Governmental Committee, is still several steps from making the 2012 ballot. It would first need to pass three readings of the full council, then gain approval from the U.S. Department of Justice. Public hearings, and time for public debate would also be part of the process.
Beaufort County operates under the council-administrator form; the proposal would change that to council-manager. The two systems are nearly identical, but under council-manager, the county auditor and treasurer can be appointed.
The best arguments in favor of the change we've heard so far is that it would allow county administrators to seek candidates who meet criteria other than name recognition and a knack for turning out the vote. Such a search would include people with considerable financial expertise. It would also include people who do not currently live here and thus would be ineligible to run for the office. And it should lead to a more accountable chain of command.
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The argument is further bolstered by problems that have long persisted in the Treasurer's and Auditor's offices, even as the people who led those offices ran unopposed in several election cycles -- at least until ballot candidate Doug Henderson unseated longtime incumbent Treasurer Joy Logan at the polls last November and took office in July.
The order that county administrator Gary Kubic, chief financial officer David Starkey and deputy county administrator Bryan Hill have brought to Beaufort County's books further recommends a uniform approach to finance that removes at least some of the politics.
That is not to say a council-manager form of government is a panacea.
Bear in mind that Logan and Auditor Sharon Burris have blamed at least some glitches with county tax sales, notices and payments on a new software system the county adopted in 2008. Problems with that software package in other places it has been employed suggest some truth in their criticism.
Neither should we overlook recent problems with Parks and Leisure Services, building codes enforcement and other departments run by officials appointed and not elected.
In the end, it's all government. The public sector can provide safety and solutions, but there will always be the possibility of incompetence and indifference, too.
Imperfect though it is, the government belongs to the people, and they should determine its form.