Seven questions proposing substantive changes for the Jackson County Charter add to an already long ballot next Tuesday. These questions cover term limits, pay raises and a significant shift in the power structure of county management.
These changes, led by Legislator Greg Grounds, were not unanimously embraced by fellow legislators or County Executive Frank White Jr. The process has also been criticized. Past charter changes have been proposed through citizen commissions appointed by the executive. The charter does, however, allow the Legislature to write changes and put them on the ballot.
Some of the changes we would endorse and encourage a “yes” vote. Questions 4, 5 and 6 are issues that, by and large, are changes we support. Question 4 creates term limits for the county prosecutor, requires the prosecutor to live in the county and requires that the prosecutor is up to date on taxes. It also shifts control of the COMBAT program, the county’s anti-drug/anti-violence program, to the county prosecutor. That would affirm a move the Legislature made last year by writing it into the charter. While a pay increase is also included with this question, we think that overall, this is worthy of a “yes” vote.
Question 5 limits some powers of the county counselor, and gives the Legislature the power to remove the counselor. We believe this is intended as a check on the executive’s influence over the office, and while the current county counselor maintains the office’s independence, this move creates a mechanism that allows the Legislature some recourse should that independence be compromised.
Question 6 simply adds the stipulation that a qualification for a judge to serve on the County Municipal Court should be that the person has been a municipal court judge in the county for at least three years, which we support.
Question 7 bars those who hold any municipal, state or federal office, except a county office, from running for a county office. We see no need for this and would encourage a “no” vote.
Our concerns with some of these questions center on their inclusion of multiple items under a single question. For questions 1, 2 and 3, this move is a deal breaker, and we would recommend a “no” vote. Further, each of these questions would have an impact on county finances, and we believe that each one should be put before a citizen commission to review so that a proper accounting of the fiscal impact can be included for voters to make an informed decision.
Questions 1 and 2 specifically speak to the balance of power between the Legislature and the county executive, and this issue should stand alone and be given careful consideration without further muddying the waters with pay raises and terms limits. Don’t force voters to choose what they think are the lesser of two evils by giving them all-or-nothing questions that deal with several weighty issues within each one. Questions 1, 2 and 3 should be a resounding “no” from voters Tuesday.