The advisory referendum asking whether Rock Island County voters should reduce the size of the county board is grabbing most of the attention. It IS important and we do support it. But it's only one of the significant votes before county residents on Nov. 6. County board races are every bit as important. More on those later.
First, the referendum. Whether the ballot proposal to reduce the board from 25 to 15 members and divide the county into three districts with five members each is the right way to do it remains to be seen. But what opponents neglect to say is that the referendum is merely an advisory one. We believe that by voting yes, voters will send a message of change to county leaders. Forget, too, claims that a yes is a waste of time because nothing can be done until the next Census. That's what opponents' lawyers tell them. Proponents have heard very different legal advice. The question deserves further examination. Even if opponents are right, voting "yes" will not be a wasted exercise. Any time citizens can tell elected officials what they want, they should seize the chance. Also, please don't let the board's decision last week to put a referendum regarding single-member districts on the April ballot keep you from saying "yes" to this one. Consider that an opportunity to fine-tune your choice. That's useful, especially if you don't like the current plan.
Of course, the advisory nature of the referendum is a double-edged sword. Board members don't have to listen to what you tell them. That's why voters must pay careful attention to board races crowding the ballot. We realize that experience, job performance and ideas should influence voter choices. But we also hope you will consider the idea of bringing professional management to the county.
Though the board has 25 members, most decisions are made by a mere handful of members. Leaders tout multiple committee meetings, but they are largely rubber stamps for what those leaders put forth. It's awfully hard to hear the quiet voice of dissent in a crowd like this, even if it is worth hearing. Yes, the county has been fortunate in its leadership and we believe current administrators have done a difficult job well. But that doesn't mean it couldn't be done better. Take economic development. RICO has not taken an active role in promoting area growth, but it should; indeed given the multiple jurisdictions within its borders, it must. Instead, it has backed away from some important regional groups. How can the county be a player without a seat at the table?
Also, current able leadership doesn't promise future able leadership, particularly when politics, not ability can guide who serves as all-powerful board chairman. With millions of dollars in its hands, the county is big business. It's hard to argue with the notion that professional companies need professional managers. So do counties, and schools. "We don't expect our school boards to run the school without a superintendent," notes former Rock Island city manager John Phillips. "Why should a multimillion dollar operation like a county be run without a full-time professional to oversee day-to-day operations?"
We back a smaller, active, part-time board, led by a part-time chairman, which sets policy decisions. It would hire an administrative professional to handle day-to-day operation under the board and chairman's guidance. The administrator would use his or her expertise to craft an economic development strategy as well as a five-year economic plan to make wise financial decisions untrained officials might not know about. Many of the candidates for county board seats are willing to at least take a look at a smaller board with an administrator, according to the answers to questionnaires we published over the last several weeks. (In case you missed them, you can find more of their answers at QCOnline.com/elections.)
If you believe as we do in the benefits of a professionally run county, we urge you to keep these names in mind on Nov. 6:
Christine Filbert, James Boyd, Ron Camper, Mark Archibald, Jim Dieterich, Michael Zeither, Jim Gager, Bill Bloom, Michael Coussens, Don Johnston, Mike McColl (who captained the petition drive to get the board size issue on the ballot), Korry Tessen, Virginia "Ginny" Shelton, Bill Long, Brian Westin, Chad Bohonek, Linda Soyke (we don't know what her opponent Mia Mayberry thinks, she didn't answer the question. She also didn't tell us how she would serve board District 20 from Valparaiso, Ind., where she is attending college), Mike Thoms, Drue Mielke, Marty Matherly, Jr. and Ron Oelke.
Finally, whatever your position on reform, please take advantage of this rare, competitive election. All the candidates have earned your attention.
Today is Wednesday, Oct. 1, the 274th day of 2014. There are 91 days left in the year.
1864 -- 150 years ago: It is rumored in the streets that the 13 negroes sent to Quincy on the Moline quota were refused. We think this must be a mistake. 1889 -- 125 years ago: Harvey McKenna, of Detroit, billiard player matched to play Wizard Schafer in New York in January for the world championship, was a professional friend and manager, Billy Catton in Rock Island. 1914 -- 100 years ago: Levi Cralle, former Rock Island county sheriff, had come from his farm near Mitchell, S.D. to visit friends in the city. 1939 -- 75 years ago: Work is being rushed on the new high school building in Orion to replace the one destroyed by fire last winter. Classes are being held in churches. 1964 -- 50 years ago: Rehearsals for the 84th season of the Handel Oratorio Society chorus will begin at 7:30 p.m. Monday on the stage of Centennial Hall, Augustana College. 1989 -- 25 years ago: The Rock Island City Council's plan announced this week to have the federal government vacate Valley Homes public housing and move residents to Arsenal Courts to reduce density may not be feasible.