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County should elect to make treasurer job an appointed position

November 02, 2009

Washington County is one of only five counties in Maryland that still has an elected treasurer, a fact that has -- at least in part -- led the county commissioners to consider asking the General Assembly to make the job here an appointed staff position.

Copying other counties in and of itself is not necessarily sound policy, although it does suggest, as state Sen. George Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington said, a trend that might reflect greater efficiency.

"They're moving that way because most counties have a finance officer (who) does a lot of the things the treasurer used to do," Edwards said.

To date, this as about as close as anyone has come to making a sound argument in favor of the change. If other reasons exist, the commissioners should bring them to light. Short of that, however, we see no reason to change on the grounds of being part of a "trend."

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The treasurer's salary is not extravagant and his staff of four is no larger than when he first took office in 1987. It is hard to see how the county could realize any appreciable cost savings through a transfer of duties.

And if there are any problems with the current arrangement, we are unaware of them. In fact, elected Treasurer Todd Hershey, a Democrat, has handled the job so well over the past 22 years that he almost always runs unopposed.

Hershey himself seems dubious of the move, a sentiment shared by Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, who said an elected post guarantees accountability. We say, only partly in jest, that when Shank sides with an elected Democrat, the officeholder in question must be doing one whale of a good job.

In these days, when so much of government is a tangled mess, it is refreshing to come across a public servant who is as steady and capable as Hershey. This is success best left untinkered with.

Moreover, based on a tepid response from local lawmakers themselves, this is a legislative battle we don't need. Delegation members and the commissioners are fragmented enough at the moment as it is, and a back-and-forth over a problem that doesn't exist would result in a clear waste of time and energy at a time when there are far more pressing issues on the table.

As Edwards implied, this might be an issue best revisited when Hershey himself should decide to leave office, assuming no voter upheaval in the meantime.

"I think you do need to respect the fact that you have a sitting treasurer in this case," he said. "I think you do need to look at the person."

For more than 20 years, voters themselves have looked at that person and found him overwhelmingly to their liking. So do we, which is why we are reluctant to support the proposed change.

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