[Editors Note: On June 21, 2016 a Republican Member of the Jefferson County Commission was arrested on a variety of sex charges. He resigned the next day. Under West Virginia Law, the remaining four members of the County Commission had thirty days to appoint a replacement. WV Law was unclear as to whether a person had to reside in the Magisterial District or even had to be a Republican. Eighteen people applied for the position. Only three were Republicans from the District.
While the letter of the law was unclear, this column, published in local newspapers, called for embracing the spirit of the law and the fundamentals of Representative Government.
On July 21, 2016, the Jefferson County Commission voted 3-1 to appoint a Republican who resided in the Magisterial District. This column, along with many citizen letters and emails to the Commissioners, made the case for doing the right thing. A small, but significant, victory for Representative Government.]
There is much at stake in the Jefferson County Commission vacancy. It is as much about how it is filled as who fills it. Every Jefferson County citizen should hope the remaining Commissioners select the best possible individual for our community.
This vacancy provides an opportunity for the Jefferson County Commission earn public trust. This can only happen if the spirit, not just the letter, of West Virginia law is upheld.
This means that the County Commission should select a registered Republican who is a real Republican. This means that the Commission should select a person who actually lives, and has been active, in the communities within the Harpers Ferry Magisterial District.
In 2014, the voters of Jefferson County clearly decided a Republican should represent them for six years on the County Commission. Being a registered Republican should be the minimum criteria. The person should be active in the Republican Party and support its candidates. Selecting a person who was ineligible to run in the May 10, 2016 West Virginia Republican primary would make a travesty of the process.
Jefferson County is complex for its size and population. The issues of most concern to those in the Harpers Ferry Magisterial District are unique from those facing residents in the other four Districts. This is why the West Virginia Code makes it very clear that only a person who actually lives in a Magisterial District can be elected to the County Commission from that District. If the Commission selects anyone other than an actual resident of the Harpers Ferry District, that person will be disqualified from being re-elected for that Commission seat at a later date. This will deprive Harpers Ferry voters of an accountable Commissioner.
Residency should be the minimum criteria. A person proposing to represent the interests of the Harpers Ferry District should have a record of being active in the community within the District. This displays not only knowledge of District issues, but a level of caring over and above political aspirations.
The Jefferson County Commission has a unique opportunity to select a person who will be a positive addition to governing. The Jefferson County Commission needs a person who will properly steward public funds and shape a positive future for all county citizens. This can be done in a number of ways:
- Power of the purse – allocating resources determines which county activities grow and which ones whither. This assures top priorities have adequate funds to achieve tangible outcomes on behalf of the county. Just as important is making sure public funds are well spent for the purposes intended. Waste is waste. Good management is good management. Accountability and effectiveness transcend ideology.
- Power to appoint – people equal policy. Selecting the right people to address the specific details of governing is another way the Commission can implement their agenda. Knowledge, the highest ethical standards, and a passion for bettering our county, not themselves, should always determine who serves.
- Power of vision – the County Commission is more than a ministerial body, it is a board of directors responsible for the health and wellbeing of the community and its citizens. Every decision, even the smallest, should foster the best of what Jefferson County can become in the decades ahead.
- Power of leadership – America has 3,144 counties and county equivalents. The Jefferson County government can find proven best practices from similar counties addressing similar issues. Our County is also part of the larger Baltimore-Washington Metroplex. The Commission needs to define Jefferson County’s role within this six million population multi-state region.
- Power of the people – citizen engagement is basic to legitimacy. Every Jefferson County citizen should have the ability to easily know and understand what is going on in their government. This means full transparency. This means timely, complete, and clear public notices. This means full disclosure of potential conflicts of interest, including family, friendship, and business connections.
The County Commission will face voter outrage if they fail in their most basic responsibility - keeping representative government alive in Jefferson County.