Want to improve Jackson County government? Here’s how to vote in November

The Jackson County Courthouse
The Jackson County Courthouse

Jackson County voters have an opportunity to improve their government on Nov. 6.

It won’t be easy. There are seven questions at the bottom of a long ballot, enough to intimidate even the most committed voter.

The questions — influenced largely by political agendas — are confusing and loaded with extraneous proposals. To get term limits, for example, voters will have to endorse pay increases. That’s deeply regrettable.

But something must be done at the courthouse. It’s a dysfunctional mess. These proposals, while far from perfect, offer a path to better ethics and improved governing in Jackson County.

Question 1 would limit legislators to two four-year terms and raise their pay by about $15,000 a year. It takes away the county executive’s line-item veto authority and his veto over charter change ordinances. It gives the legislature authority to approve interim appointments and amend the adopted budget.

It requires legislators to live in the county and to be current on their taxes or have a plan to pay them.

We recommend a yes vote on Question 1. Term limits will break up the entrenched power of long-time legislators.

Question 2 would limit the Jackson County executive to two four-year terms and raise his or her pay by about $13,500 a year. It imposes tax and residency requirements like those for legislators. It also restricts the executive’s ability to hire consultants and experts.

We recommend a no vote on Question 2. It makes little sense to hobble the executive here while raising his or her pay. We do support term limits, though, and the legislature should propose a revised measure for voters at its earliest opportunity.

Question 3 would limit the sheriff to three four-year terms and raise the salary by roughly $55,000 a year. It would impose residency and tax requirements and task the sheriff with supervising the county jail. The county executive has that responsibility now.

We recommend a yes vote on Question 3. The sheriff should run the jail.

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Question 4 would limit the county prosecutor to three four-year terms, with residency and tax requirements, and provide a raise of about $15,000 annually. It would give the prosecutor control of the COMBAT anti-drug sales tax.

We recommend a yes vote on Question 4. COMBAT is too often seen as a slush fund for politicians, instead of a resource to prosecute drug crimes and provide counseling services. The prosecutor should run the program.

Question 5 would allow the county legislature to remove the county counselor — in essence, the county’s lawyer — with six votes. Today, the counselor serves at the pleasure of the county executive. The measure would also restrict the counselor’s ability to file lawsuits or hire outside experts without the legislature’s approval.

We recommend a yes vote on Question 5. The counselor should represent the county’s interests, not the county executive’s.

Question 6 would require three years of experience as a municipal judge before receiving an appointment as a Jackson County municipal judge. The county’s municipal court handles tickets for code enforcement and animal control, among other things. It also assigns prosecutions to the prosecutor’s office.

We recommend a no vote on Question 6. There has been no reported scandal at the court, and we see no need for a change.

Question 7 would prohibit anyone holding a local, state or federal office from running for a county office. Jackson County’s elected officials are exempt from this provision.

We strongly recommend a no vote on Question 7. There is no reason to limit the pool of possible candidates for county offices.

Some voters will be reluctant to vote yes on any of these questions because they were poorly drafted. That’s a reasonable concern, and one we share.

But let’s be clear: This is the best chance Jackson County voters have to limit terms at the courthouse. Voters should take it.

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