Well, that was fast: less than a week after Shirlee Leighton's funeral, the Lake County Commission has appointed Scott Pedersen to fill the seat she left vacant. Pedersen, you may recall, was one of the five Republicans who ran in the Republican primary last spring for the commission. He missed making the ballot by about 60 votes, placing fourth behind Chris Giles, Roger Hagemann, and Dan Bohl and ahead of Rod Goeman.
The commission's decision seems to fit with principles I've espoused earlier. The commission picked the next logical candidate, a citizen who demonstrated an interest in serving by running for the office but who was the runner-up in the last election. Choosing a candidate from among those who have faced the public trial of a campaign and election is a more democratic way to select an appointee than an application process reviewed behind closed doors.
But there is a complication here: Pedersen isn't quite the runner-up, not yet. Pedersen placed fourth in the Republican primary. We still have five candidates competing for three open seats in the general election. In less than four weeks, we will have two more runners-up.
Suppose that on November 4, the Obama tide sweeps Democrats Craig Johannsen and Gene Anderson are swept into office. They each get 3000 votes. Chris Giles wins the third seat with 1000 votes, barely edging Dan Bohl, who gets 980 votes, and Roger Hagemann, who gets 970 votes. In this scenario, Bohl and Hagemann will have earned more votes than Pedersen. Plus, they've gone through much more effort by campaigning in the primary and the general election seasons. Arguably, through that continued campaigning, they may be more in touch with the citizens of Lake County than Scott Pedersen, who got to quit campaigning on June 3.
Now maybe there was some urgent work coming up that the commission felt couldn't wait until after the general election. I don't have a problem with the county commission acting quickly. I don't see any disrespect to Shirlee in the commission moving to ensure the continued smooth functioning of government, any more than swearing in LBJ on the plane showed disrespect to JFK. (Granted, the business before the Lake County Commission isn't quite as urgent as that before the President of the United States, but the principle still applies.)
However, the county commission hasn't perceived such urgency in the past. When Commissioner George Vanhove passed away on September 8, 2003, the commission called for applications, got nine (!), and didn't swear in Kent Peterson until November 3. The commission followed the same process in November 1998 to fill the seat left vacant when Harold Minneart died the week after his re-election.
So was there some unusually urgent business this year that compelled the commission to break its own precedent? We don't know, since the board discussed the matter in executive session with states attorney Ken Meyer. (I'm still not convinced that calling an appointment to an otherwise democratically elected board a "personnel matter" so you can discuss it in secret is the wisest thing to do). Maybe the commission has decided we just can't get by without a Peterson (Pedersen, Petterson...) at the table.
Keep in mind, the commission has the legal authority to make appointments. It picked an experienced commissioner (Pedersen served for four years over in Miner County). But given past precedent and the upcoming election, the commission's action seems sufficiently hasty to warrant further explanation.
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