Your View: The Times’ ideas on local elections are illogical

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To the editor:

I was even more surprised than I was disappointed by the Times’ November 10 editorial (“Court clerk has no business on ballot”) concerning the re-election of Alexandria Circuit Court Clerk Ed Semonian.

A few weeks ago, the Times strongly encouraged a competitive race between Semonian and his Republican opponent Chris Marston (“Contested races best serve the public,” November 3, 2011). Now that Semonian has won a landslide victory, the Times doesn’t think the position — or the city’s other constitutional officers — should be elected at all.

The Times editorial board might want to consult the Virginia Constitution and the Code of Virginia on this very question. The constitution explicitly provides that the circuit court clerk, sheriff and commonwealth’s attorney must be popularly elected. The city council cannot simply decree the appointment of the circuit court clerk, and literally every circuit clerk in Virginia is popularly elected.

As Virginia’s code makes clear, one real safeguard for members of the public, like the Times’ readers, is to vest each constitutional officer with direct authority from the electorate, so as to prevent his or her performance of duties from being interfered with or subverted by other public officials — or political establishments.

Does the Times believe the city council should be able to legislate decisions concerning probate, adoption, real property transfers, the selection of cases for criminal prosecution or the enforcement of civil court process and orders? And does the Times believe a constitutional convention should be conducted on this question?

The Times also complained about the court clerk’s salary. The Times might check Virginia’s most recent Commonwealth Appropriations Act. The clerk’s salary is established by state law and is funded by the state through the Commonwealth Compensation Board. The city does not establish, and does not pay, the clerk’s base salary and has not for many decades.

The Times’ editorial position is a direct contradiction of its active editorializing about this latest election, and it ignores literally all constitutional and statutory law on the issue.

The Times’ candidate lost an election. Taking the position that there simply should be no more elections is immature, illogical and contrary to the facts and public interest.

Editor’s note: In “Contested races best serve the public,” the Times stated that making the clerk a nonelected post “would be a reasonable position.” Our next editorial, “Court clerk has no business on ballot,” expanded on this idea rather than contradicted it. As stated in paragraph eight of that editorial, the Times is aware nixing the court clerk as an elected position would require a change in Virginia’s code. In no editorial did the Times indicate the city council had the power to do so.

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