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Commissioner suggests staggered terms

December 14, 1998|By SCOTT BUTKI

The other four Washington County Commissioners are unenthusiastic about a suggestion by Commissioner Paul Swartz that members begin serving staggered terms.

With staggered terms, at least two of the commissioners would be on the election ballot every two years. They would still serve four years.

The idea would prevent problems which might occur if all five of the sitting commissioners left office at the same time, as nearly happened this year, Swartz said.

"It would bring continuity. I think we need to have continuity," he said.

Swartz even volunteered to serve only a two-year term instead of the standard four if it would make it easier for the switch to take place.

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Swartz made the suggestion during Tuesday's meeting of the County Commissioners. He suggested the local delegation be asked to try to get state legislation passed allowing the county to have staggered elections. The idea will be discussed again at Tuesday's meeting.

The Washington County Board of Education has been having staggered elections since 1986 and that has worked out well, Swartz said.

The recent commissioners' election demonstrates why staggered terms would be a good idea, he said.

Two incumbents, John S. Shank and Ronald L. Bowers, were swept out of office in the Nov. 3 election while two other commissioners, James R. Wade and R. Lee Downey, did not seek re-election.

Only Republican Gregory I. Snook returned as a County Commissioner. He is joined by Independent Bert L. Iseminger Jr., Republican William J. Wivell and Democrats Paul L. Swartz and John L. Schnebly.

The current process shows that there can be trouble if the voters decide to try to clean house and remove all five commissioners, Swartz said.

Wivell, though, thinks voters should have that right.

"I think voters should have an opportunity every four years to have a clean slate," said Wivell.

Schnebly also opposes the idea. While he understands the concern about continuity, he said the transition has been pretty smooth so far.

Iseminger questioned whether the public really wants to participate in an election for commissioners every two years. "I don't know if the public could stand it," he said.

Besides, he sees the commissioners as a team and does not think they should be separated with different terms.

Snook said he is concerned about the financial impact of the change.

There would probably be no additional government expenses, said Dorothy Kietzel, Washington County election supervisor, because all they would need to do is add an additional item to the ballot in the presidential elections.

Swartz said he was the only one of the candidates to come out in favor of staggered terms during the election campaign so he will not be surprised if the suggestion is rejected when it comes up again at Tuesday's meeting.

"I won't be upset. It is just an idea I proposed," he said.

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