Ballot question chance to debate governance

Beaufort County Council's vote to move ahead with a referendum on the county's form of government would decide nothing, but it would offer voters an opportunity to say how they would like to see two key county jobs filled.

The referendum would ask voters whether they want to switch the county form of government from council-administrator to council-manager. The two systems are nearly identical except on a very important point: The county auditor and treasurer can be appointed rather than elected under the council-manager form.

If voters say yes to the change, council members should make the two offices appointed postions.

We have our current form of government by default. The legislature determined it was the closest to the form of government in place when the Home Rule Act went into effect in 1976. It's time to revisit that decades-old decision.

This issue was sparked by problems in the treasurer's office headed by Joy Logan, who ran unopposed for most of her 20-year tenure until last year.

Petition candidate Doug Henderson defeated Logan, and Henderson spoke out in defense of keeping treasurer an elected position at the Sept. 26 County Council meeting.

He says voters held Logan accountable.

"... 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."

But it took embezzlement by a treasurer's office employee to get people's attention. Years of critical audit reports, tax sale problems, reassessment snafus, and tax collection and disbursement disputes resulted in no challengers for Logan.

To be sure, hiring the treasurer and auditor rather than electing them won't guarantee that problem people will get the ax as quickly as some of us might want. But it would allow the county to seek candidates with expertise and experience in the fields. The pool of qualified candidates almost certainly would be deeper if the onus of a political campaign were removed.

The council's decision to let voters consider a different form of government at least gives us the chance to debate and weigh the options.