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Chapman: Taking away vote is lazy, disrespectful

By Staff | Oct 24, 2014

We posed a series of questions to the candidates for Pierce County commissioner in last week’s edition. The responses were fairly predictable, but no set of answers proved as disappointing as the first.

The question read: “In 2011, the auditor-treasurer combined office became an appointed one. In December of 2013, the board voted 4-1 to make the clerk of court office an appointed one. The recorder and state’s attorney offices are still elected positions. Would you vote to approve making another elected office an appointed one?”

Only two of the five candidates explicitly said he would not vote in favor of making an elected office an appointed one. (Three of these candidates will be elected or reelected to offices paying more than $1,000 per month with the option of a full-family health plan.)

Justifications for taking votes from the people range from better accountability to going with what the persons currently in the offices – including auditor, clerk of court, recorder, state’s attorney – prefer.

Sorry fellas, but that’s not how democracy works. Partially because of our country’s obnoxious 24-7 cable-news carousel of partisan talking heads, too many Americans have been conditioned to focus heavily on the mishaps of the federal government – and they are many. Sadly, the reckless disregard of the electorate happens on the local level too.

More accountability? To whom? The people also should be holding the county’s officials accountable, not just a group of five commissioners.

How is asking the official their feelings on being elected or appointed fair? If that person is making a living in that position, they have a pretty good reason to prefer being appointed. That’s not to say that all of our county officials prefer being appointed. Some do value and understand the importance of voting. They do a good job and should be thanked.

To base such a vital decision to even consider taking away a vote should not be motivated or justified based on the opinion of one person with an understandable interest in protecting his or her livelihood. I want people in office who are going to protect our right to vote and allow the community – not a few – to hold public officials accountable.

When discussion of making the clerk of court and recorder appointed posts took place in 2009, an article in the Tribune was misleading in stating that “Many counties in the state have most of their county government offices appointed by an elected commission. Pierce County is just one of a handful of counties where the clerk of court and county recorder positions remain elected.”

Not quite. According to a 2013 record of public offices – provided by the North Dakota Association of Counties – most counties still elect those positions. Through 2013, 45 auditors were elected with eight appointed. Of treasurers, 47 were elected and just six appointed. (Fifteen of the elected officials serve as both auditor and treasuer.) Of recorders, 48 were elected and just five appointed. Of clerk of courts, 25 were elected, 15 were appointed by commissioners and 13 are state employees.

That’s troubling, but don’t let anyone tell you this a popular trend running the gamut. It’s not and it’s wrong.

District 2 Commissioner Mike Christenson voted no last year, stating: “I just don’t feel that four commissioners should have a right to take away a vote. Why are we fighting overseas all the time to give others a right to vote and taking away one of our votes? The right to vote is very important.”

That’s coming from a man who fought for this right.

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