THERE IS NO good reason voters in Richland County — or any other county — should be required to go to the polls to choose a county treasurer.
The office of treasurer — and those of coroner, clerk of court and auditor, among others — is an administrative position whose duties are outlined in state law and should not be draped in politics. When those elected to these offices operate them efficiently and within budget, they have done their jobs. Choosing them in partisan elections only serves to clutter the ballot. Legislators should make these appointed positions. Until that happens, voters must continue hiring these administrators.
Given that current Richland Treasurer David Adams has been dutiful in taking care of the public’s business of overseeing annual tax collections, we see no reason voters shouldn’t return him to office in the June 10 Democratic primary. While his opponent, Joe McEachern II, might well make a good public servant, he has no experience running such an office and provides no convincing evidence to suggest he would do a better job or that Mr. Adams isn’t sufficiently carrying out his duties.
Mr. Adams has made a number of improvements since taking office in 2002, one of which was to institute a policy allowing installment payments, which helps people struggling to make lump-sum payments to pay their tax bills more comfortably. He also helped make Richland the first county in the Midlands to coordinate the issuance of motor vehicle license-plate decals with the payment of county property taxes, a practice Mr. Adams says speeds the re-licensing process for the car owner and saves taxpayers more than $60,000 a year.
While Mr. Adams’ job is extremely important to the financial health and operations of the county, it doesn’t involve making policy. It’s a job that requires someone with sound, professional managerial skills to oversee a staff charged with serving the public.
It makes no sense to put this or any of the other elected county administrative positions such as auditor on the ballot. By doing so, we’re asking voters to hire the best administrators through a political process. Talk about an impossible task; most voters don’t get to meet the candidates and don’t get enough relevant information during a campaign to make a sound decision. What’s the chance of voters being able to determine who will be the best office manager based on information from limited public forums and speeches?
If the Legislature would make these positions appointed, counties likely would get a deeper, more qualified field of candidates. As it stands, many qualified professionals have no desire to get entangled in partisan political campaigns. Appointments also would make it possible to develop a rigorous process aimed at hiring the best administrator via in-depth interviews, background checks, resumes and references.
Depoliticizing these offices and raising the level of professionalism of candidates ought to be a priority for our Legislature. But until that happens, voters are locked in to the unappealing ritual of hiring administrators at the ballot box.
In Richland County, the Democratic primary for treasurer is tantamount to the general election because there is no Republican opposition in the fall. On June 10, voters should choose the experienced and proven administrator, David Adams.