Elected vs. Appointed
Mayor Peyton made news this week when he advocated that voters be given an opportunity to decide whether the Duval County Sheriff and School Board should be appointed rather than elected. It would have to be a very carefully-worded referendum indeed.
Sheriff Rutherford is diametrically opposed to the idea, as are members of the school board, and for pretty obvious reasons. It would seem that once you’ve done the work to meet the voters and win an election, it’s pretty difficult to hear that someone wants to invalidate that effort.
Letting voters decide things is a good thing, and in this instance, it’s a better idea for the voters to directly decide whom they want for sheriff and school board than to have them decide to put that power in the hands of a single person, the Mayor. Now obviously, Mayor Peyton would not have the power to do so, as he’ll be leaving office in 2011 and has said for some time he has no aspirations for another political office. But it would seem that no matter who is in the office, having (particularly) a Sheriff that is independently elected helps diversify the power in the city’s top jobs.
While most cities with a ‘strong mayor’ form of government do have appointed leadership for the police force, that’s not necessarily a good enough reason to change. Mayor Peyton told the Charter Review Commission that the top issues in the city are crime and education, which is true. Jacksonville has some outstanding schools, but some struggling ones as well, and the statistics on illiteracy and dropout rates are staggering. We also have a serious crime problem, and while the murder rate has not grabbed headlines like it did last summer, it is still far too high.
Of course, in every political campaign, people ask candidates for Mayor and City Council what they intend to do about education and crime. The honest answer is there is not a lot a Mayor can do about either issue, other than provide funding in his or her budget. City Council can at least write laws in an effort to deal with the crime issue, but enforcement is where the rubber meets the road. Those issues are the purview of the Sheriff’s Office and the school administration. While appointing the top law enforcement officer and the school board would give the Mayor far more influence in those areas, it also makes those offices several steps removed from the people who are impacted… the voters.
But in this form of government, there is some impetus on the voter as well. They need to be engaged, know who their candidates are, and ask them the questions about crime and education. Under a system where those offices are appointed, voters are not given that opportunity. They can ask a Mayor “whom would you appoint?” But that is an unanswerable question until it comes time to choose. As it is, voters at least have the opportunity to directly question those people about the issues they consider important.
Then, there is the additional issue of whether such a move would be constitutional, and whether the legislature would be required to allow the changes in the city charter. It might not be as simple a matter as putting the measure on the ballot and, if the voters decide they want it, making the change.
So, rather than change the charter, maybe the effort should go into getting people engaged in the process. Let the voters directly question the people who will be making decisions about crime prevention and education, rather than consolidating that power. Referenda have brought us some much-needed changes in government, but they have also brought us an amendment to the state constitution protecting pregnant pigs, my point being they are often decided on an emotional level. Yes, you could say that about any election, but at least as it stands, if the voters don’t like the current sheriff or school board, they have an opportunity to express that dislike come election day.
And when it comes down to it, whether elected or appointed, it’s all about a person doing a job with the resources that are given him or her. If that’s not going to change, they should be held accountable to the voters.