Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Study Commission Proposes Row Offices be Elected, Consolidated

The members of the Lancaster County Government Study Commission took straw votes on a series of questions concerning the subject of row officers at their public meeting, Tuesday afternoon.

The first question on the table for discussion concerned whether the County Coroner should be elected or appointed.

"I think we can get a better individual if the position is appointed," opined member Heidi Wheaton.

"I agree," said James Miller. "I don't see why you would want an elected coroner. Where's the political value in that?"

Apparently, no one else agreed. Especially not Commission member Gregory Sahd, who voiced vociferously his opinion that all county offices ought to be elected. "My complete argument," said Mr. Sahd, "for maintaining these offices [as elected ones] is that they're accountable to 50,000-60,000 as opposed to six."

"The people elect the County Commissioners, who appoint the row officers," interposed member Sam Mecum.

"But it's once removed," replied Sahd.

The Commission's straw vote turned up 9-2 in favor of electing the County Coroner.

The members also (straw) voted unanimously that the County Controller and Sheriff should be elected and 10-1 that the Treasurer should be elected.

An area of novelty in the discussion came when member John Smucker advocated the idea of combining certain row offices.

"It is conceivable that we could save as much as half a million annually by consolidating," he argued. "The citizens of this County have been hit by a 7% tax increase on top of inflation" and "I think the voters of this County would be very pleased with us if we could find a way to save them money," Smucker continued.

Mr. Sahd and others expressed reservations about potential conflicts of interest and decreased accountability in enacting such a consolidation.

At the end of the day, the Commission (straw) voted 8-3 in favor of combining the offices of Prothonotary, Clerk of Courts, and Register of Wills.

They also took a straw vote of 8-2 in favor of eliminating the position of Jury Commissioner.

Approximately fifteen members of the public attended Tuesday's meeting, including former County Commissioner and recently-announced State Senate candidate Paul Thibault.

The Government Study Commission has been meeting for the purpose of drafting a Home Rule Charter, in which various recommendations are being made to change the structure of County Government. The Charter will be finalized later this year and placed on the ballot in November. If approved, the modifications would take effect in 2012, immediately following the terms of the current three County Commissioners.