Harry Huntley, Richland County Auditor, Democrat

Tuesday, 12:30 p.m.
Maybe I can keep up with these endorsement interview posts if I do the latest one first, and work backwards.

The only candidate seeking the Democratic nomination for Richland County auditor to come in for an interview this round is the incumbent, Harry Huntley. His challenger, Paul Brawley, joins what is shaping up as a record crop of candidates who have refused to come in for interviews. (This endears them to us as we still had about 50 to interview, so every cancellation helps. At the same time it gives us a broad hint that they aren’t really serious about seeking the job.)

Mr. Huntley is serious about it. It’s been his job for 17 years, and this is the first time he has appeared before the editorial board since IHuntley2 joined it in 1994 — which means he has been blessed with a lack of opposition. Apparently, he did have opposition in 1990 — his first election — and the then-board (all of whom are gone now) endorsed him.

Some basic facts about Mr. Huntley, 51: He was initially appointed to the job, in 1989, to fill the unexpired term of predecessor Pat Antley. He immediately proved to be an able administrator, making his endorsement a "clear choice" for this newspaper a year later. He is a Certified Public Accountant, and "I think I’m still the only auditor in the state who is a CPA." He used to be a Republican.

Some basic facts about the job of auditor: It is a highly technical, nonpolicy-making job. Purely functional, nothing political about it. The office is responsible for all property tax billing (not the assessments, the billing), and the auditor recommends millage rates to the county council based on the numbers he deals with every day. He is supposed to be the real-life math check on what politicians may want the numbers to say, and he has to be able to resist their pressure to deny reality.

So why is the job elected — and particularly, why is it elected in a partisan manner? As Mr. Huntley says, "The function I perform is not really a partisan function. It’s for everybody."

Huntley3In fact, he only switched parties to keep party from getting in the way, rather than for electoral reasons. With the county increasingly Democratic, he didn’t want a label to keep people from feeling like they can deal with him. "It takes down a barrier in community meetings."

So as far as he’s concerned, elections for his office should be nonpartisan.

But he still thinks the office should be elected — mainly because it gives him the political authority to say "no" to elected county council members who try to press him to say there’s more money coming than there is.

Yet almost everything else he says supports the idea of the post being appointed. Elections — particularly elections for such obscure, little-known positions — provide no assurance of the needed technical qualifications. He was appointed, and by his own account, after 17 years he’s still more qualified than any of the other (elected) auditors in the state. He could get bumped out of office at any time by a person with no better qualifications than a catchy slogan on a campaign sign.

Mr. Huntley is walking, talking proof, that auditors should be hired — according to strict guidelines regarding qualification — not elected.

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