New Castle News

December 18, 2012

Our Opinion: Elimination of jury commissioners is right move

By Staff
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — With a simple vote, two elected positions were eliminated in Lawrence County last week.

The Lawrence County commissioners made that move, deciding to do away with the positions of jury commissioners.

The people in these two posts — one designated for a Democrat and the other for a Republican — essentially have served as the overseers of the process used to pick county residents to serve in jury pools.

In learning of this move by the commissioners, you might be wondering about jury commissioners and how these elected officers could be eliminated so easily. There are different ways to answer this question, but the basic answer is: They aren’t needed.

They really haven’t been needed for some time. The process of creating jury pools is best handled by automated systems, with names plugged into computers. The system obviously requires human oversight, but it does not require electing someone to do the job.

And it certainly does not require a system where party loyalty plays a role.

But jury commissioners have persisted throughout Pennsylvania. And the reason is politics. County government in most parts of Pennsylvania stands as an example of patronage politics at its zenith. Positions — sometimes quite obscure positions — are given elected status, with salary, staffing and authority to go with them.

We have long supported serious revisions to the structure of county government. Our reasons are simple: As it exists, county government is a system with more than its share of inefficiencies, where politics can trump sound management. Artificial barriers exist within different county offices, making it difficult to combine operations or shift staff when practical to do so.

If you look at many of the elected positions in county government, you would be hard pressed to come up with a rationale for putting them on the ballot, let alone creating a system that pits one party against another. Jury commissioners are just one example of that.

Defenders of the status quo often tout the fact voters are given the ultimate power over county row office positions through the ballot. While that’s technically true, such power ought to be linked to the voters’ abilities to see how those offices operate and how the elected officials manage them.

The fact is, most county row offices have very limited decision-making authority outside basic office management. They don’t make public policy the way city councils, school boards or township supervisors do. They simply run their offices.

As such, those operations are largely internal. Unless something significantly bad happens (remember former county treasurer Gary Felasco?) most row officers operate out of the public eye.

So we are glad the Lawrence County commissioners took the initiative to eliminate the jury commissioners. It’s an example of what can be done to make county government more efficient.