Monday, December 10, 2012
Dietrich, Kraft Propose Electing NorCo Row Officers
For starters, proposed changes to the Home Rule Charter should really be considered by Lamont McClure's Law and Order Committee. He hasn't bothered to convene a meeting about anything in several years, even though the Charter is crying out for numerous tweaks. Kraft's Personnel Committee should not even be considering this question, but it's on the agenda for Wednesday.
Reform groups like Philadelphia's non-partisan Committee of Seventy have long advocated the elimination of these "barely-understood elected positions that date back a century and a half or more ... ."
First, having six independently elected row offices will just increase inefficiencies and bloat County government. Second, there is no compelling need for an independent Recorder of Deeds or Coroner. That's just nonsense. Third, best practices around the country make clear that these offices function more professionally when they are appointed, based on merit. Fourth, it would increase patronage and nepotism. A newly elected Register of Wills would install relatives and political hacks instead of making sure the best persons are in place. Fifth, there would be a decrease in accountability and transparency. With so many row offices acting independently, it would be far more easy to hide things from the public, Executive and Council. Sixth, this would guarantee the election of whomever is put forward by the ruling party, which is most often the Democrats. Voters will not know who is running for these obscure offices, and will just vote party instead of person.
Disagree? Gerald E. (Jerry) Seyfried, a former Northampton County Executive, Council member and Director of Court Services, weighed in on this topic a few months ago. He changed his thinking about electing row officers, and here's why.
"I, as a private citizen didn't like the idea of losing the ability to elect County Row Office Officials. I later changed my mind. Here's the reasons. Today, Northampton County promotes and compels competitive testing for all these positions. There are 'Career Service Regulations' that are updated periodically to assure that we are getting the best individuals to head these departments. All the positions under the Department head are also filled by testing. Highest test results usually result in getting the promotion. Most of our Department Heads have years of on hand experience. Under the Row Office Election system, it was a popularity contest and the newly elected official gave out the jobs in those respective offices to political hacks. That doesn't happen anymore in Northampton County. There is also a grievance procedure in place for any individual who feels they were passed over for a promotion. There is an independent Board of arbitrators who will hear the case and they have the authority to override the decision of the appointing authority. There are also safeguards as to posting of all test scores to eliminate someone with a low test score being interviewed before someone with a very high test score. Northampton county is the leader in this field. I don't want to bore you with lots of details, but I do want your readers to know that Northampton County has a great staff of employees. Most of this is because we no longer elect 'row Offices'."
I'd agree with Ken that the process might need a few tweaks to give the courts a greater say in appointments to some of these offices. But let's not destroy a system designed to encourage professionalism over politics.