Against Electing Row Officers

I want to echo Bernie O’Hare’s points here about what a horrible idea electing row officers is. The case for making a job an elected position is that there’s some kind of political content the person presides over that the voters disagree about. Or, that there’s some potential for conflict of interest if the Executive is doing the hiring.

But neither one of those criteria is even enough to say that a position should be elected. You also have to show that the voters would do better job than the County Executive at figuring out whether the person is qualified, and then doing their job well.

That’s definitely not the case. Most voters spend zero time thinking about what row officers do, and there’s no reason to believe they have well-formed opinions on whatever political issues these people are dealing with. There’s also no reason to think they’d be able to monitor these people day-to-day to make sure they’re doing the job correctly.

As we’ve seen with Philadelphia Traffic Court, when you create elected positions with no political content, elected officials compete on patronage, trying to boost their popularity by giving favors to people. It’s just asking for corruption and unprofessional conduct.


  1. It amazes me that both you and Bernie think that making these positions un-elected and hired takes the politics out of it. Actually I’m not surprised you don’t see it, you’re young, inexperienced, and think of politicians and bureaucrats as God’s gift to the unwashed masses. Bernie is a grizzled veteran, I expected more from him.

    Short story – anything that involves politicians doing anything involves politics.

    You have less of a chance in a smaller shop like Northampton County for patronage because there’s less of a place to hide (as opposed to large cities where patronage costs billions annually), so in that situation I’d see where Bernie is coming from.

    For that reason your Philly example is useless – of course there’s more patronage, fraud, corruption, crooked politicians, crooked bureaucrats, cops on the take, etc. in Philly than here. It’s bigger and there’s more room to hide.

    So let’s stop with the thinking that making them un-elected positions takes politics out it. That’s just not true.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      The problem with holding elections for offices where the voters have no idea what policy choices hang in the balance is the same in Philly and Northampton. There is no reason to believe that voters 1. know what the row officers actually do or 2. understand those jobs so intimately that they understand what the political issues are. There is no way that’s true. As I said, I don’t think appointments take the politics entirely out of these – it just puts the Executive in charge of the political direction. That’s as it should be. If people feel that the row officers are badly managed, then that becomes a scandal for the Executive and creates a political opportunity for an opponent who promises to manage them better.

  2. I don’t believe consolidating political power is a smart move. If you’d go the direction of confirmation by council of the Executive’s choices, then maybe. And it’s a small maybe.

    But you put this behind closed doors and it’ll be slimier than ever.

    I do recognize that’s how you like your politics, behind closed doors with the enlightened making decisions that the unwashed masses could never comprehend. So sorry to bring this up but you need to make a better case.

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