By Nathalie Hardy • Columnist • 

To elect or appoint; that is the question

Should the county surveyor’s office remain elective or be made appointive, as the law now allows? That’s a question the board of commissioners needs to make as County Surveyor Dan Linscheid approaches a Feb. 1 retirement after more than 41 years with the county.

By default, the new law makes the office appointive going forward. However, it allows individual counties to opt out if they wish.

The state Legislature made the change in 2009. The board could have let the office become appointive then, but deferred out of respect for Linscheid’s long tenure and desire to finish out his service as an elective official. He went on to win election to his fifth four-year term in 2010.

Linscheid made his wishes clear in his Jan. 16 resignation letter.

“I respectfully request this position continue to be elected unless my replacement, your board and our citizens agree on the change and affirmatively vote otherwise,” he said. He cited an ordinance he quoted as saying, “changes in the number or mode of selection of elective county officers shall not take effect unless the ordinance is submitted to and approved by the electors of the county.”

However, County Counsel Rick Sanai said state law takes precedence and makes the position appointive unless the board decides otherwise. While the board made an exception in 2009, specifically for Linscheid, that doesn’t commit it to an extension, he said.

The board’s most pressing decision is filling the remainder of Linscheid’s term, which runs through Dec. 31, 2014. But it aims to consider the elective vs. appointive issue at the same time.

All three commissioners seem to be leaning toward letting the office become appointive.

First, they noted, that broadens the pool of potential candidates, as county residency is required to file for an elective office, but not to seek an appointive office. They also said they would be able to provide stronger oversight if the officer were to be made appointive.

Commissioner Mary Stern said one problem with electing a local surveyor to the office is giving him responsibility over plats he’s produced himself in private practice. That concern would be alleviated with appointment of someone from outside, she said.

“By having the position be an appointed one, we can clearly have that restriction to ensure there is nothing fishy going on,” Stern said. “If the surveyor is elected, we can’t impose any regulations like that.”

When she approved Linscheid’s 2009 request to lift term limits, keep the office elective and allow him to finish his county tenure as an elected official, Commissioner Kathy George said, it was with the understanding from then County Counsel John Gray that the office would become appointive when he retired.

Historically, the office was political, due to issues like water rights, she said. But these days, it’s more technical, she said.

One possibility before the board is having County Engineer Bill Gille, a licensed surveyor, fill in. Another is contracting out the county’s surveying needs on a case-by-case basis to surveyors from other counties.

In his resignation letter, Linscheid suggested Mike Rennick, a registered surveyor from Newberg, as a fill-in. That didn’t come up at the board’s Thursday session.

The board is planning to discuss its options further at its next informal session, slated for 2 p.m. Monday, Jan. 28, in its Fenton House meeting room. The board normally holds informal sessions each Monday and formal sessions Thursday.

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