I support this move. As I wrote in my column a few months ago, Washington County has reached a size and complexity that it makes sense to exist in the American model of three co-equal branches of government. It wouldn’t be the end of the world if we left it alone, but I’d prefer to have an elected County Executive. Now what…
There will be a scramble for people to run… maybe. We’ve never had this elected position before so nobody has really been looking at it. It’s a full time gig that requires some executive leadership skills. That doesn’t appeal to everyone. The obvious lead candidate is Josh Schoemann, the current County Administrator. Certainly nobody could argue against his knowledge of County Government. At the same time, he could be viewed as just part of the county swamp. Why bother having an elected County Executive if you are just going to put the same person back at the helm? Of course, all that will depend on if he runs and who runs against him. It’s going to be an interesting few months to see who throws their hat into the ring.
A couple more side points…
With this move, the county is violating Schoemann’s contract and will have to pay out about $130k to him. That’s a temporary expense and no reason to hold back from changing our form of government if we think that’s the right way to go, but it is worth noting. It would have been nice if they could have timed the change with the expiration of his contract.
Also, this is exactly the kind of attitude that frustrates me:
Supervisor Jenkins – “I brought it back and then voted against it a second time because it still deserved time to do the research and get feedback but for me I feel our electorate voting has pretty limited knowledge on county government. To me now laying this task on the people in the county to have this very important vote, honestly it scares me a bit. So now that it’s past there’s going to have to be a lot of education on what sort of role (county executive) this is. I also feel the difference in position is we will now be tasking the operations of the county to someone who wins a popularity contest. There’s a role for that in democracy but I hope we find a balance.
So… we shouldn’t have elected government because the people are too ignorant? That’s the same argument that’s been used against representative government by tyrants for millennia. As the saying goes, “democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms.”
UPDATE: Chris Jenkins sent me a note clarifying his statement:
I view the county exec as the day to day administrator who should come with some sort of knowledge and background to run this immense operation. That is why I was worried about electing this kind of position. I am obviously all for elected positions, as I have been in multiple roles myself. I just hope we now surround our county exec with the staff he/she needs to successfully run the operations of the County.