From Michael McPhee, White Lake Township:
Legislation is pending that would eliminate special elections in local government. Sponsors of the bill think vacant positions should have appointees serve out the remaining terms to save money. It seems like a stop-gap measure to conserve taxpayer funds during our troubled times but it will make a lasting change in how we’re governed. Citizens would lose their say in picking a replacement while politicians would be free to fill a vacant position with their own appointee and put a lock on it. Even so, this “bandage” does not fix the real problem — it only hides the wound and allows it to fester. Many of these vacancies and ensuing special elections are the result of job-hopping, career politicians who seek other public positions instead of finishing the job the were elected to do. Some have made a career out of jumping ship, mid-term, to advance themselves or to avoid term limits and it seems that just one of these moves can set off a chain reaction of political hop-scotch. As one vacancy gets filled, another vacancy is created and another special election is needed.
Ruth Johnson campaigned for Secretary of State and was elected despite being in the middle of her term as Oakland County Clerk/Register of Deeds. Bill Bullard accepted a temporary appointment to her old job even though he was a county commissioner. His old job was handed off to (County Commissioner) Robert Hoffman (R-Highland). As it stands now, a special election will determine who the voters really want in office, but that process may soon change. As a sponsor of the new bill, (state Sen.) Mike Kowall’s (R-Commerce, Highland, Milford, Walled Lake, Wixom, Wolverine Lake, White Lake, Orchard Lake, West Bloomfield)own mid-term election to the Senate disrupted the business of White Lake Township and caused a long impasse among trustees in filling his remaining term as supervisor. Ironically, a special election was almost required to resolve the matter. You have to wonder if Kowall was concerned about the cost of a special election when he made his career move and left the township in a fix.
If we want more efficient government, this proposed legislation misses the mark. The real problem is not the “cost” of special elections but the “cause” of so many special elections. Too many times, we’ve been forced to “pick up the tab” for a special election because of some career politician. Now that it’s crunch time, we’re forced to relinquish our voting rights and turn over the reins of government to political appointees just to ease the burden. Either way, the politicians win and the “will of the people” is diminished.
As citizens, we all have the right to right for office — but as voters, we have a reasonable right to expect that all candidates will honor the term of office they seek. Anything less than that and they do not serve us, they only serve their own ambitions. Perhaps we need to bar elected officials from seeking another position during their term to avoid a conflict of interest and the dilemma posed in replacing them. Another solution might be to simply let the runner-up in the last election serve the remaining term of a vacated office. At least, then, some measure of the elective process remains in tact without causing undue expense to the taxpayer. Who knows? Perhaps the prospect of the opposing political party gaining a vacated office might have a sobering effect and bring some balance back into play.