As we close in on the filing deadline next week for local offices to be filled by election later this year, we have a question.
Why do we continue to elect so many local officials who should be selected on the basis of qualifications, not popularity?
In addition to the executive and legislative officials, counties elect a number of people who have professional duties. Folks such as the county clerk, sheriff, property valuation administrator, coroner and even a county surveyor are chosen at the ballot box instead of for their qualifications.
Give the state credit, in recent years they have instituted competency tests for the PVA and circuit clerk positions and only those candidates who have passed the test can run for those offices. But there are no such requirements for the other offices.
A sheriff should be a professional law enforcement officer, yet in one county in Kentucky a convicted felon -- convicted because of misconduct during a previous term as sheriff -- was elected to the office four years ago after being pardoned. And in another county, yet another sheriff who was removed from office and convicted in federal court for being corrupt is running for his old seat after being given a pardon thanks in large part to political connections.
We understand the need to elect the county judge-executive and the fiscal court magistrates or commissioners. These are the executive and legislative officers of the county. But the other jobs? Sheriff? County clerk? Coroner? These are professional jobs requiring certain qualifications, experience or educational attainment, yet are often filled with unqualified people who happen to be popular at the ballot box.
It's time for Kentucky to reform the local election system. These professional jobs should be civil service positions, filled by the most qualified people and not subject to the whims of the voters. People laugh at our archaic oath of office that includes a statement disavowing any past participation in a duel. What's more embarrassing is that we elect people who should be qualified professionals. If we are going to continue to elect these officials, then there should be some more stringent qualifications for candidates besides the standard age and residency requirements.
When voters go to the polls in May to select their party's nominees, and then again in November, we urge them to look past partisan politics and factors such as friendship or kinship, and instead cast their votes based on qualifications.