Reconsider eliminating the county administrator

Next Friday is expected to be the last day on the job for county administrator Paul Cunningham, but we hope Washington County Commissioners reconsider.

The commissioners decided last month to eliminate the position, which mostly involves dealing with day-to-day issues with the county budget, in favor or tackling that task themselves, or possibly moving forward with the help of a hired clerk.

No decision has been made on a new hire or position yet, something we think indicates that at the very least, the commission should have waited to drop Cunningham’s position. There doesn’t seem to be a solid plan in place yet for who will handle all his responsibilities.

The commissioners say they want this to force them to be more hands-on and we commend that spirit. We want our officials to be knowledgeable and hardworking and put 100 percent into their jobs.

But do the current commissioners remember the way things were before an administrator was hired four years ago?

The late Sam Cook, a longtime Washington County Commissioner, said that the budget responsibilities took 85 percent of the commissioners’ time and took their focus away from other tasks. In fact, he felt it kept them from functioning as commissioners.

Former commissioner Larry Steinel pointed out that having commissioners become full-time number crunchers kept them from their real jobs and focusing on county projects and concerns.

Commissioners should be deciding where the money will go, not tying themselves up with day-to-day budget concerns and clerk duties. Do we really want to elect our county officials so that they can serve as clerks?

Commissioners at the time of Cunningham’s hiring also pointed out the advantage of having someone with a CPA or fiscal experience in the position, something many of our commissioners haven’t had.

Cunningham served 10 years as a fiscal clerk for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and 25 years in the auditor’s office before working for the commissioners.

Someone without that experience could make costly mistakes.

Cunningham makes a salary of $53,349, but says his work has saved the county about $92,000 a year by changing procedures and noticing areas where changes could be made.

Even if that wasn’t the case each year, we feel it’s a valuable, important position.

Former commissioner Cora Marshall, who worked in the office both with and without an administrator, said she feels it’s a step backward to lose the position.

We agree.

Our commissioners seem intent on un-solving a problem, and we’re not sure why.

They can be more hands-on and more involved without losing the ability to delegate, and we hope that’s what they do.