Should Augusta County's elected boards - the Board of Supervisors and the School Board - change to staggered terms where part of each board would be elected every two years rather than the current system in which the entire boards stand for election every four years? The short answer is YES.
Current chairman of the Board of Supervisors, Tracy Pyles, put this question before the former Board of Supervisors two years ago and got a thumbs down. It appears there were too many hard feelings and personality clashes for Mr. Pyles to move this good idea forward. In early August, the current Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to put the question out for comment at a September 26 public hearing.
Staggered terms are greatly preferred over the current system of electing all supervisors and school board members at the same time. Under the current system, it might be unlikely, but possible, that all new members would be elected at the same time. Continuity and institutional knowledge would be destroyed and the board might struggle to find its footing. Staggered terms also give voters, at least in some magisterial districts, the opportunity to sound off on issues facing the county that can be a barometer of sentiment not only for the newly elected members but also for those in mid-term.
Staggered terms will temper the power of voting blocks and special interests whose demagoguery or money might unduly influence the electorate, especially in a low-turnout local election. Hot button issues would be less likely to influence the stability and continuity of governance. Staggered terms provide a bit of checks and balances - a fundamental principle in American government at both the federal and state levels. Many cities and counties use staggered terms to bring it to local government as well.
If the change is made, in 2015 voters in selected magisterial districts would elect members of the Board of Supervisors and School Board for two year terms while voters in the other magisterial districts would elect representative for four years. In 2017 those selected magisterial districts would elect representatives for four year terms.
If the Board of Supervisors decides to move to staggered terms, its next decision will be to select magisterial districts that will elect representative for a two year term in 2015. That process should be as nonpartisan as is humanly possible.
It was totally inappropriate for Supervisor David Karaffa to volunteer to run for a two year term. Mr. Karaffa currently represents the Beverley Manor District, but he does not own the seat - the people of the district do. Perhaps Karaffa was just being generous or showing his support for staggered terms, but it is entirely possible that he, or another supervisor, could be making a personal political calculation if they have a say in which districts are on which election cycle. Maybe Mr. Karaffa wants to run for the General Assembly but doesn't want to give up his spot on the Board of Supervisors to do so. I am not saying it is so, but in politics appearances count for everything.
I suggest a lottery system - perhaps drawing straws or using ping pong balls like the Virginia Lottery uses - done before the sharp eyes of the media and the public. Done in a way that dispels any notion that a current office holder is manipulating the process for personal advantage. Only then will Augusta County move to the superior system of staggered terms without any suspicion that the system is being rigged for political purposes.
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