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Comissioners consider appointed positions

Voters may be asked in May to decide if the Jackson County assessor, surveyor and clerk should be appointed rather than elected.

The county Board of Commissioners unanimously agreed Thursday to hold three public hearings in the coming months to determine if they should put the issue on the May 17 ballot.

Board Chairman C.W. Smith said the idea of converting the positions to appointed department heads came up in discussions with the two newly elected county commissioners, Don Skundrick and John Rachor.

After the public hearings, the commissioners will decide whether to ask voters to determine whether one or more of the positions will be non-elected.

If voters decided to make the positions nonelected, they would be filled by the county administrator, who is immediate supervisor to the department heads. The administrator almost certainly would check with the commissioners before a hire.

Smith said there wasn't a specific problem with the assessor, surveyor or county clerk that motivated the commissioners to consider the change. However, he said, with elections it's possible that someone with little or no experience could end up running a county department.

Many counties throughout the state already have changed their charters to make the assessor, surveyor and clerk positions appointed.

If the three positions were appointed, only the three commissioners and the sheriff would be elected.

The idea elicited mixed reactions from the three current office holders. Assessor Dan Ross said he opposes the idea, Surveyor Kerry Bradshaw said he thinks it's no longer necessary to hold an election to pick a surveyor and County Clerk Chris Walker said she would let voters decide the matter.

"To be honest with you," Ross said. "I think they're making a mistake. It's one more thing where the government is trying to take something out of the hands of the people."

Ross said his job is often a lightning rod in the debate over assessment and property tax issues, so it's better to have someone in the office who is directly answerable to the people.

Keeping his position elected preserves checks and balances in government, he said.

Ross said the proposal could be an attempt by county officials to have more control over departments, particularly by the two newest commissioners, who, he noted, come from business backgrounds and are used to being in charge.

"It seems to me they have much bigger issues than worrying about whether we're elected," he said.

Bradshaw, however, said an elected surveyor position hearkens back to a time when the surveyor performed private surveys and was elected to ensure they would be honest and fair.

"The need to be elected is long gone," he said.

Bradshaw said he is certified as a surveyor, but acknowledges it was a steep learning curve trying to run a department. He said he will leave it up to county officials to decide how effective he is if the voters choose to make his position non-elected.

"If I'm not doing my job, then fire me, get me out of here," he said. "Government should be on the same playing field as private industry."

Walker said she was a little surprised that commissioners were pushing to place the issue on the May 17 ballot.

But she said she would leave it up to the voters to express their opinion.

"I think that if the voters choose to do that, then that is their right," she said. "I can only hope that I'm doing a good job. I'm putting 100 percent into it."

She agreed it was important for the county to have the most qualified people running the departments.

Smith said he did not see any problems with the way Walker, Bradshaw and Ross were running their departments. He said it is his understanding they would retain their positions until the end of their terms if voters changed their non-elected status. They would also be eligible to be appointed if the change occurred.

Smith said the salaries of the positions would likely remain about the same.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or e-mail dmann@mailtribune.com.