Proposal worth studying


Two years can go by quickly.

In two years’ time, a newborn grows into a toddler, a high school junior becomes a college freshman — and your county government could have an entirely new slate of public officials.

Last week, Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel approved the wording of a proposed ballot item that would lengthen the terms of elected county officials and constables. Currently, county judges, sheriffs, justices of the peace, collectors, treasurers, assessors, circuit clerks, county clerks, coroners, surveyors and constables all serve two-year terms. The proposal by David Dinwiddie of Pine Bluff would extend their terms from two years to four.

Mr. Dinwiddie says he believes four-year terms would allow county officials to be more efficient, according to an Arkansas News Bureau report in Tuesday’s edition. “They can plan for long-term budgeting, and they can concentrate on the job instead of having to run every two years,” he said.

The idea is not a new one. A similar but less expansive proposal was pushed in 2008. The Arkansas Sheriffs’ Association promoted a measure for county sheriff terms to be expanded from two years to four; however, the issue did not make it onto a ballot because of a lack of signatures. In 2010, a proposal to extend all county terms to four years also did not make the ballot.

County officials in neighboring Oklahoma serve four-year terms. Those elected to Arkansas constitutional offices — the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, auditor, treasurer, land commissioner — serve four-year terms. However, state constitutional offices are limited to two terms. County officials in Arkansas do not currently face term limits.

Mr. Dinwiddie needs more than 78,000 signatures of registered voters to get the proposal, which would be an amendment to the state constitution, on the November 2014 ballot. If it made it to the ballot and if voters approved it, the amendment would take effect with any county officials sworn in after Dec. 31, 2014, according to The Associated Press.

As we noted, life comes at us quickly these days, and national and local election cycles seem to start earlier and earlier. Several of these county positions are very specialized. According to the National Sheriffs’ Association, for example, county sheriffs in most states serve four-year terms; Arkansas and New Hampshire sheriffs serve two years, and New Jersey sheriffs serve three-year terms.

A four-year election cycle for county offices would allow new sheriffs, judges, assessors, et al, to learn the ins and outs of their positions without having to focus on re-election bids. As Mr. Dinwiddie begins collecting signatures, his proposal is worth studying.