Editorials Opinion — 10 November 2011

On Tuesday, Election Day, voters made a collective decision that should not have been theirs to make: who would spend the next eight years overseeing the daily operations of Alexandria Circuit Court — and get paid $128,000 annually to do it.

The race between incumbent Ed Semonian, a Democrat, and Chris Marston, a Republican, devolved into a grudge match between two people and two parties. It had all the makings of a thrilling political battle in which each candidate, intent on defending their deep-seated beliefs on the economy, education, health care and abortion rights, clash on the issues that matter to the electorate.

Except there’s nothing controversial about managing an office, which is essentially what clerk of the court does. Yet, for no good reason, this position is on the ballot every eight years, eroding the potential for progress.

Sure, the position is no cakewalk. It’s just like any job: dedication, commitment and a good work ethic are necessary. But the skill set required is based mostly in organization and management; much of the job consists of maintaining and distributing documents — albeit important documents. No doubt this requires a trustworthy person, and a person of integrity, like Mr. Semonian, who has the responsibility of swearing in new city council members among other pomp and circumstance.

Voting along party lines for court clerk is like firing your mailman because he believes in health care reform. Personal beliefs are irrelevant to the job.

Clerk of the court is a nonpartisan position. The seat itself is inherently apolitical. In fact, its office sits in what supposedly is the most apolitical institution in America: the court.

Yet these facts could not protect the race from becoming a partisan battle of irrelevant politics. The Alexandria Democratic Committee put their weight behind Semonian while the Alexandria Republican City Committee boasted Chris Marston as their candidate. All of a sudden the administrative position at a (literally) 9-to-5 operation became a coveted throne of false political importance.

Virginia’s code should be amended to remove the positions of clerk of the court, commonwealth’s attorney and sheriff from the ballot. Rather than create a cushy, 8-year-guaranteed government job, the positions should be filled via an interview process at City Hall that promotes competition, merit and progress.

In the meantime, Mr. Semonian should strive to make the technological advancements he says he wants but lacks money to implement. But how? The city council should cut the position’s extravagant $128,000 salary and reallocate the money for improvements. Or, as an elected official, perhaps Mr. Semonian could sacrifice some of it himself.

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Alexandria Times Staff

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