Elected or appointed

The Hancock County commissioners recently voted for a new 2018 budget that is up 6 percent to over $8.3 million. One thing’s for sure: The oversight of tax dollars is a serious responsibility, one that should be undertaken by a knowledgeable, even credentialed, county official.

The growth of the budget is due, in part, to the addition of an information technology employee and another sheriff’s deputy. Also, the county is advertising for a director of regional communications. Each of these positions stipulates qualifications and minimum standards for training and education, as well as a preference for previous experience.

Yet the post of county treasurer — the person who must coordinate with several departments and manage the comings and goings of an $8 million budget — remains an elected position with no other qualification for the role beyond being a resident of Hancock County. The Hancock County commissioners lately have questioned the prudence of this method for filling such an important office.

Hancock County operates a courthouse, a jail, an airport, a sheriff’s department and an emergency management agency. The heads of each of these departments must meet a threshold of qualifications for holding that job. How is it that a hairdresser needs a license to work in Maine, but the county treasurer only needs to be a Democratic or Republican party member who can run an effective campaign for election?

This question in no way disparages outgoing treasurer Janice Eldridge, who has decided not to seek another term. By all accounts, Eldridge has performed the county role with the integrity that the position demands. But will an elected successor be equally credible?

In 2005, Hancock County voters decided to retain the elected treasurer position instead of making it a position appointed by the county commissioners. An appointed treasurer, the commissioners argued, would have to possess the skills and knowledge to oversee a multimillion dollar budget, without the potential for partisanship or the perils of inexperience that an elected treasurer might bring to the role. Our taxpayer money does not have an R or a D attached to it.

And while an appointed treasurer is no surefire guarantee that county funds will be securely curated, an appointed treasurer can be overseen, corrected or even dismissed by the county administrator or the commissioners. An elected treasurer answers only to the voters every four years.

We elect the three county commissioners to represent our common interests. They have asked for the accountability of an appointed county treasurer. The process necessary to bring about that change is long and detailed, which means there is plenty of time for discussion and contemplation on the part of the commissioners and the people who voted them in.

Public re-examination of the question is appropriate. Let the process begin.

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