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By Editorial Board

Effective government isn't just about the who, it's about the how.
Monday night, Chester County Councilman Joe Branham floated the idea of changing the county's form of government. Currently, Chester County operates under a council/supervisor form of government, where administrative duties lie with an elected supervisor, who also serves as chair of the council and breaks any tied votes. Branham said he supported moving to a council/administrator form of government, under which elected council members hire an administrator. The matter will be discussed and voted upon at the council's next meeting. If it clears three readings, it will be on the ballot in the form of a referendum for the public to vote up or down on in November.
The issue has sort of bubbled just under the surface for a number of years. We actually heard a lot of chatter about it even before current Supervisor Shane Stuart took office. We were practically assured by some folks in-the-know that the matter would be on the ballot in 2014. It didn't get there, of course, it was never even formally discussed by the council and no public petitions were brought forward. Maybe it was driven a few years ago (and now) by who is in the supervisor's office, we can't know that, but obviously, it is now past "bubbling under the surface" and is out in the open for debate and consideration.
There are four forms of government in South Carolina. One is the council form of government, which is frankly the least desirable in our view. It may work well for smaller municipalities, but for a county, where the budget stretches into the tens of millions, it seems impractical. Having a council be both policy makers and administrators with no checks or balances and no extra set of eyes on things makes it too easy for nepotism, cronyism and other undesirable "isms" to creep in. The other three forms all have plusses and minuses. The manager and administrator forms are basically the same, other than with a manager, the council may choose to appoint auditors and treasurers instead of having them elected by the people. Probably, it's for that reason we're having this discussion now. In 2002, Chester County voters supported a switch away from a supervisor and toward a manager. However, when the council moved to appoint the auditor and treasurer, voters felt they overreached, had assigned themselves too much power and were depriving them of choices. Many felt that aspect of a manager form had not been sufficiently explained in advance and they issued a rebuke in the form of a public petition that put the matter back on the ballot. They then voted to go back to a supervisor form of government.
With a supervisor form of government, we think that, as current supervisor Shane Stuart pointed out, there is more direct accountability to voters. They answer directly to the people who put them in their position and can take it away from them. It is also the form of government that concentrates the most power into one position, which can be either good or bad, depending on how that power is wielded. Certainly, there can be personality conflicts with a council and a supervisor and council don't always necessarily have a shared vision for the county.
An administrator or manager form of government does open up a much larger pool of potential candidates. A supervisor, as an elected official, has to be a resident of the county. That's good in that they have a vested interest in the area and aren't looking to job jump to a bigger payday somewhere else. However, hiring an administrator or manager allows a council to conduct a nationwide search to find the absolute most qualified candidate. They can decide exactly what is needed, be it expertise in economic development, grant writing, personnel or all-of-the-above. If a hire isn't working out, the council can simply fire them and start over, where an elected official is guaranteed four years in office whether they competently carry out their duties or not. It is the most-used form of government in the state. The people still have an indirect say in who leads them, since they can vote out council members if they don't like the choices they make in relation to the manager or supervisor.
We aren't really using this space to tell people how they should vote. If you're comfortable with a supervisor, that's fine and if you want a switch to an administrator, that's also fine. Government is ideally supposed to be of, for and by the people, so it's makeup should be of the public's choosing. What we do like is the opportunity for people to choose. The council is in the process of putting Sunday alcohol sales on the ballot to allow the public to decide the issue. Some council members personally disagree with Sunday sales, but have said the public should have the final say. If council members are hearing from the public that they want a chance to choose their form of government, then we think this is a similar situation. The public might tell them in huge numbers they like things just like they are, or they might opt for change. Either way we don't see any problem with letting voters decide not only who governs them, but how they do it.