Debate shouldn’t be about term limits |

Debate shouldn’t be about term limits

Summit County voters won’t be asked this year to eliminate term limits for elected officials. But that doesn’t mean the issue is dead.

As long as Sheriff Joe Morales holds office, and that’s until 2006 under current term limit laws, the issue is sure to come up either for the 2004 or 2005 elections. Morales thinks he’s doing a good job and is proud of his police force and jail operations.

We agree with him, and add that we like his law enforcement philosophies and his interest in dealing with the county’s growing diversity.

Yet, the real question shouldn’t be about term limits. It should be about why we elect a sheriff, clerk and recorder, treasurer, assessor, coroner and surveyor in the first place. These jobs involve management of important departments and should be based on professional competence, not kissing babies.

The archaic practice of electing these positions is rooted in the fact that Summit County is a statutory county and not a home-rule county.

The terms themselves mean little except in state law, but suffice to say a home-rule county can act more like the county’s four main towns do. In the towns, department heads are hired on merit, not by vote counting.

Summit County went through a home-rule debate in the middle 1990s, but the effort foundered and collapsed. Ironically, it was the elected offices that felt threatened by the possibility of having to apply for jobs, instead of filing for election, according to one close observer.

In the perfect world, term limits – now set at three four-year terms in Summit County – shouldn’t be needed. Why should we need a law kicking people out of office after a certain amount of time when voters have that opportunity every election?

Still, voters created state term limits in 1994 as an overreaction to professional politicians becoming entrenched in office, building kingdoms and fostering abuses.

In 1998, Summit County voters rejected a first attempt to get rid of term limits. In 2000, they agreed to raise the limit from two terms to three, and the electeds said that would be fine.

Now, it’s not. That’s because careers and livelihoods are at stake.

Which brings us back to our original point. These jobs are about careers and professionalism, and should be appointed, not elected. While good, competent people are serving the county, the future is uncertain, with or without term limits.

If ever there were a time to bring back the home-rule debate, it is now, when term limits are in place and the end is in sight for those who otherwise would be threatened.

Opinions published in this space are formulated by members of the Summit Daily News editorial board: Michael Bennett, Jim Pokrandt, Jason Starr, Rachel Toth, Reid Williams, Aidan Leonard and Martha Lunsky.

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