Williams County will put two ballot questions to voters in the November General Election pertaining to its Home Rule Charter, but voters may recognize both questions.
The two questions were posed as a single question in the previous election, which was defeated.
The first question will ask voters to approve language updating the charter so that it syncs up better with changes to state regulations. The charter hasn’t been updated for 15 years and many things have changed since then. These adjustments include changes to which taxes the county may impose, as well as budget publication requirements, and language that aligns the wording for county employee and department head employment status with at-will employment terminology.
The second question seeks approval to change the positions of auditor and treasurer/recorder from elected to appointed positions beginning in 2023, when the terms of the present incumbents have expired.
Williams County Director of Human Resources, Communications and GIS Helen Askim said the two questions are being asked independently of each other so voters may consider each independently of the other. Voters will be able to reject one or both, or approve one or both.
“What we heard after the last election was people had some concerns or wanted to know more about the elected positions that would be changing,” Askim told the Williston Herald. “But it seemed that people understood the language changes driven by current practice or legislative rules makes sense to change.”
Shifting the auditor and treasurer/recorder offices to appointed rather than elected is a trend Askim has previously told the Williston Herald is being seen across the state.
Appointed roles would mean the county can be certain the roles are filled by people who have the proper qualifications and skills for the kind of work each position entails, while an elected position simply requires that individuals be at least 18 years old and an eligible resident. There’s no particular requirement for education or work experience.
In principal, elected officials do have to convince voters to hire them, Askim acknowledged. But in practice, the auditor’s position has been unopposed the last five terms and the treasurer’s position has been unopposed in four of the last five decades.
“Statewide, people just don’t seek out these jobs,” Askim said. “And partly it’s because it’s an unusual employment situation. You are committed to a position for four years, which is not how people tend to think of work these days, and to stay there, you have to spend your own money to promote yourself every four years.”
Askim said the county began to consider this change five or so years ago, when both individuals who were holding the office had begun to consider retirement at some point in the foreseeable future. The treasurer from that time frame, indeed, has retired since then.
There were also at the time discussions with individuals who might take the office thereafter, which Askim said were met with uncertainty and lack of interest.
Changing the two positions from elected to appointed would create more accountability for attendance and productivity, Askim suggested. It would also provide an avenue for commissioners to mandate that an elected auditor or treasurer/recorder update how they work and how their department functions to keep up with changing times and technology. There is also a more collaborative dynamic with an appointed position versus an elected position, Askim said, because elected officials must concern themselves with campaigning on a regular basis to keep their job.
“While we’ve been lucky and have capable people in the job now, there’s no guarantee that will happen down the road,” Askim said.