On Nov. 3 Dukes County voters will be asked if they want the position of county treasurer to change from elected to appointed. If approved, beginning in 2027, the county treasurer would be appointed by the Dukes County commissioners. The appointment would be indefinite unless the appointee was removed for misconduct or something similar.
In a letter voted on Oct. 14, four county commissioners endorsed a yes vote on the question.
“We strongly believe this will lead to a more transparent selection process, allow for the most qualified individual to hold this critical job, and enable Dukes County to better serve its citizens,” the commissioners wrote. The commissioners provided the following reasons for their support of the change:
- There has not been a contested race for county treasurer in 30 years, meaning voters haven’t actually been given a choice in their treasurer since 1990.
- This change was recommended by the Department of Revenue in their 2010 Financial Management Audit of Dukes County.
- Allowing the county commission to appoint a treasurer would facilitate a formal selection and vetting process as well as an expanded candidate pool beyond those who are well-known and prepared to run for office.
- An appointed treasurer would be subject to standard performance reviews but would only be able to be removed for cause (misconduct, malfeasance, or neglect of duties).
- Should this question pass, it will not be in effect until the treasurer duly elected in the upcoming election is done serving her term (January 2027) or sooner if they vacate their office.
The letter was signed by commissioners Keith Chatinover, Tristan Israel, Christine Todd, and John Cahill. Commissioner Leon Bathwaite voted against the letter.
“I’m going to be voting no because I still believe that the treasurer should be elected by the citizens of the county,” he said at the meeting.
Brathwaite went on to say this would help maintain the treasurer’s independence.
Commissioner Don Leopold didn’t vote as he joined the meeting late.
Former county treasurer Noreen Mavro Flanders, who upon her 2018 retirement noted she was the longest serving treasurer in the commonwealth, took issue with one of the assertions in the commissioners’ letter.
“I have a real issue with the comment in that letter that the voters did not have a choice,” she said at the meeting. “Of course they did. They voted. I mean the fact that no one ran against me — that is a misstatement saying there was no choice, that the decision was made for them. That’s not true. Nobody put me in that office and I think that is very misleading.”
“Well no one said that anybody put you in that office,” chairman Tristan Israel said. “You ran for office and you won your election.”
“It said that the decision was made for the voters,” Flanders said. “Read that paragraph.”
“To be fair, I’m not discounting either your service to the county or your abilities as a treasurer,” Chatinover said. “The point made there is that if folks had wanted someone else to be treasurer, whether that was from the Island or not, they would not have had the ability to vote for somebody else. The choice had been made because…if there’s one candidate on the ballot, that’s who’s going to be treasurer. So my argument is that for 30 years voters haven’t had the choice between two candidates. I’m not sure why we should stick with that system.”
Chatinover went on to say that in 2027 the commissioners could very well appoint that same person to the position. He added that voters would have the choice to choose the commissioners who select candidates for that position.
“But you can’t do that when there’s only one choice on the ballot over and over and over again,” he said.
“I agree with you that no one else ran, but the comment that the decision was made for the voters, that they didn’t have a choice, that is untrue because they could have put someone forward if they wanted to,” Flanders said.
Flanders went on to say, “a decision is being made for them through appointing.”
“I would argue the exact opposite because you are actually giving voters a chance at having a new treasurer if you allow one to be appointed by a group of county commissioners whereas when there’s one person on the ballot, you’re not giving the voters a choice,” Chatinover said. “And yes you’re right that no one chose to run against you but that also means that we’re limiting it to folks who feel qualified to run for office, which in of itself is a task, and would be able to unseat an incumbent, which is an incredibly difficult thing to do, whether they were the better choice or not.”
Israel said he understood Flanders concerns and said the county was lucky to have had somebody with her skills. He also lauded current treasurer Ann Metcalf.
“Part of my concern has always been that someone could run that doesn’t have those skills,” Israel said. “And that’s my major reason for voting for this change.”
“I understand both sides of it,” Todd said. “I understand what Noreen is saying, I understand what Keith is saying, and I think for the purpose of defining our stance on why we support going to an appointed versus an elected position — I think by removing that second sentence, it does not in any way diminish our position.”
The commissioners went on to vote to remove the following sentence from their endorsement letter:
“In other words, the choice of county treasurer has been made for the voters, not the other way around.”
Metcalf did not weigh in on the ballot question.