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Commission shelves resolution

By Staff | Nov 20, 2009

All signs pointed to the Pierce County Commission adopting a final resolution last week to change the offices of Clerk of Court and County Recorder from elected to appointed positions.

However, after about 20 minutes of comments from a room full of people at the commissioners Nov. 17 special meeting, the commission voted 4-1 to set aside the resolution, and in the future, ask county voters whether they want the offices to remain elected or appointed.

Commissioners Mike Christenson, Richard Vetsch, Duane Johnston and Joe Bohl voted to shelve the resolution while David Migler was the lone dissenting vote.

It was quite a turn of events after the commission spent several meetings discussing the issue and visiting with Carla Marks, clerk of court; and Lori Miron, county recorder, to get their feedback. Once a proposed plan to change the offices from elected to appointed was drafted, a public hearing was conducted.

It was at that Nov. 3 hearing where just two people attended and commented on the plan to change the two offices from elected to appointed. The low turnout coupled with the lack of feedback from residents gave commissioners the impression residents were fine with the proposed change.

Apparently, though, there were residents not comfortable with the change, and they expressed that just before the commission was going to take final action on the resolution.

About 15 came before the commission last week, but just a few spoke. Gary Mayer asked why the commission wanted to take the right to vote away from the people.

“I respect the job all of you do, but do you really want to get into hiring and firing people?’

Fifth District commissioner David Migler said many of the county elections have not featured two or more candidates so why can’t these positions be appointed.

It’s clear the people in those offices now are qualified. Many counties have gone the direction of appointing these offices and it’s worked well, said Migler.

However, the fact the current system of electing people into the positions has worked to fill the offices with qualified people reveals a change is not necessary.

Bill Hartl, Rugby City councilman, challenged the commission to come up with one name of a person who held those one of those offices over the past 50 years who wasn’t qualified.

“The people elected you so why are they incapable of electing these two positions?’ Hartl said.

Migler asked if Hartl would favor city offices, including auditor, which are now appointed, to be elected. Hartl said he would not be opposed to it.

Jeff Miller said he doesn’t have a problem with appointing the Clerk of Court. That position works closely with the district judge and continuity is important.

Mayer added the veterans who served and died for this country did so to preserve the rights of the people, and one of the most important rights is the right to vote. Why take that away?

Migler said elections are a burden of expense for people who are currently in office, and they face the uncertainty of getting elected.

Both Miron and Marks would go along with the change, but have said they have concerns, namely regarding how long the appointments would be and the commissioners’ oversight in those offices.

Mayer said a change benefits them from the standpoint they don’t have to run and put in the expense and risk of not getting re-elected.

People who are truly interested in filling the office and serving the public should be willing to put their heart and money into running.

District Four Commissioner Duane Johnston said a citizen advisory committee tasked at looking at county government and what positive changes could be made in the future brought recommendations to the commission. And one was to consolidate offices as well as appoint people into those offices.

However, Mayer said those were just recommendations and did not have to be followed. He added that the advisory committee didn’t have county elected officials or voters to answer to.

District One Commissioner Joe Bohl wondered where these comments were earlier this month at the hearing.

“I was a little disappointed this came to us so late,’ Bohl said. “They are not falling on deaf ears, but it’s disappointing they were not made earlier.”

Migler said there may be a group of residents OK with the commissioner’s decision, but they didn’t get the chance to come and give their input. That’s why a hearing is set up so everyone can give their input and at an appropriate time, he added.

Miller acknowledged that residents should have made the effort and attended the hearing to voice their concerns. “We’re sorry we weren’t here earlier, but we are here now.”

Last year the commission did approve by resolution apponting the supervisor who will oversee the combined auditor-treasurer office. That consolidation will take effect in 2011. And the commission already appoints the offices of tax assessor and veterans affairs.

A question was posed by Christenson about putting this issue before the voters to decide.

Do they want the offices to remain elected or appointed? Those in attendance didn’t have a problem with that proposal.

However, the commission may be running into a time crunch to put the issue before voters, Karin Fursather, county auditor, said at the meeting.

A special election would have to be conducted before the year’s end, and that may not be possible, since an election requires several weeks of legal notices and the publishing of ballots. Fursather was going to contact the Secretary of State’s office to get some direction.

January is when residents can begin to take out petitions to run for those offices, so if the commission wants residents to vote on the issue, it would have to be before petitions can be taken out to run.

Thus, the only option to change those offices from elected to appointed before the new year would be through a resolution.

The commission did kick around the idea of holding an advisory vote at the next scheduled election in June of 2010. However, they agreed it would be awkward on the ballot to ask residents to vote for candidates running for those offices and also pose the question of whether those offices should remain elected in the future.

As of last week, the commissioners tabled any further talk on bringing the matter to a vote of residents.

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