Where there are wills, there's a candidate

September 12, 1994|By Ken Keatley 22TC

THE JOB of register of wills is roughly akin to dog catcher in my book.

Both positions are worthy and necessary services that should be funded by taxpayer dollars. But we need capable, professional bureaucrats in such jobs, not politicians.

So why, oh why, when voters enter the sanctity of the voting booth tomorrow for the 1994 primary will we be responsible for picking our city's or county's register of wills?

Most of the 30 percent or so of eligible voters who will grace the polling places tomorrow won't know anything about candidates for registers of wills. Oh, but they'll vote for one. How they'll decide is anyone's guess.

Sure, the candidates -- some of them, at least -- are trying to help. I saw an advertisement for one potential register of wills in a Baltimore County community weekly newspaper. It proclaimed: Only Action Brings Change." What kind of action is needed, and why change is unclear.

Should it matter that my choice for register of wills be a Democrat or a Republican or a Bull Mooser? Will his or her responsibility for keeping records on estates be colored in some way by his or her political leanings? Isn't the esteemed register, with all due respect, a paper shuffler? And how can I be expected to adequately weigh the qualifications for the candidates before me when the job is one I neither understand nor particularly care about?

Even other political candidates apparently don't look at register of wills as an important job. When was the last time you heard a candidate seeking the endorsement of the register of wills? How about a register of wills candidates' forum or debate?

The only reason we vote for register of wills or clerk of the circuit court is because it's the law. Maryland's constitution, an otherwise sensible document, mandates in Part V, Article IV, Section 41, that "There shall be a Register of Wills in each county of the state and the City of Baltimore, to be elected by the legal and qualified voters of said counties and city, respectively, who shall hold office for four years . . . ."

Maybe that was appropriate a century or two ago. Today, it makes no sense that the electorate is asked to decide which candidate would make the best office manager. The job requires administrative, not political skills.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for the political process. Any of us who are concerned about the society in which we live should align with a political party whose goals and beliefs mirror our own, and then carefully scrutinize all candidates before choosing our mayors and council members, county executives, governors, etc.

Those policy-making, fiscal overseers are asked to chart and steer a course for the future, and to make tough choices in funding programs or passing legislation that will have significant, direct impact on our lives and wallets. These decisions are -- and must be -- tinged by their philosophical leanings. That means politics.

So, let our registers of wills and sheriffs and circuit court clerks rise through the ranks and earn their appointments by their expertise in that area.

We should amend the constitution to drop such elected offices. It's been done before: County surveyors used to be elected officials. Increasingly, we've reduced the number of judges who must answer to the voters.

Let's leave politicking to the politicians, and dog catching to the pros.

Ken Keatley writes from Baltimore.

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