by Mark Moore
Washington County is floating a proposal to reduce the number of elected Constable positions from the current fifteen to three. If passed, townships would be combined so that only three constable positions would be on the ballot for the 2014 election.
I am not sure that the proposal would pass constitutional muster if challenged in court. A plain reading of Article 7, section 47 of the Arkansas Constitution says that the voters of each township shall elect a constable. I don’t see how they could do that without reducing the whole county to three townships. If they left that policy in place until the next redistricting, it would probably make it hard to fairly allocate voters using township information.
Separate from the question of can they slash the number of constables by 80% is the issue of should they do so? It doesn’t cost much money- they only get paid something like $7.50 a year. Based on the principle of getting what you pay for, I’d say that is too low. Unless they can leverage the position into some extra security work on the side, I can see why it would be hard to get good candidates. Still, I know a few and we do have some good ones who serve because they are public spirited. To tell you the truth, a lot of our legislators are not very good either, and for a lot of the same reason- the pay is too low considering what is asked of them. If people think it is a good idea to slash constable positions because too many bad ones get elected, then I would have to say by the same logic we should slash legislators as well.
Maybe we should slash some county sheriffs too, if that reason stands. If Washington County is re-configured to have only three townships then each third will be larger in population than many Arkansas Counties. It doesn’t make sense to have a constable covering a population base larger than half of the counties in the state. Of course I don’t favor that, but then again I don’t think we ought to slash the number of constables either.
It has been said that the position is archaic, that it is a holdover from a time before we had automobiles and good roads. County Sheriffs usually have enmity towards Constables because they are a separate elected official whose responsibilities overlap with their own.
I think that is unfortunate. The men who wrote the state Constitution were very sharp- and they were big on dividing power. For example, on paper our Governor is one of the weakest in the nation. Many executive offices that a Governor might appoint in other states are separately elected by the people and operate independently of the Governor. They liked the idea of power being divided. I don’t see a problem in theory with having local constables operating con-currently with the Sheriff. If there are bad constables, then that is the problem, not the existence of the office itself. There are bad sheriffs and deputies as well.
Frankly, too many sheriffs are acting as if they are local administrative units of the federal government rather than locally elected, independent law enforcement units. Oh sure the feds have more money to throw at crime. They may even have more training and equipment. In other words, every argument the sheriffs use against the existence of an independent constabulary could be used by the feds against them. But in spite of those arguments, I believe most voters want sheriffs that are independent and answer to the local people rather than sheriffs who see themselves as mostly administrative units of the central government.
There is also a political party aspect to this move. Constables tend to be free spirits. If they file as a party candidate though, they are delegates to the Republican or Democrat District Conventions by virtue of the fact that they are serving in an elected office. If there are ten Republican Constables in Washington County then in all likely-hood that is ten more “Tea Party” type Republican votes at district conventions. Multiply that by the number of counties in each of the four districts and you can see that they would actually tilt the scales away from the establishment side of their party. And the same is true of Democrats. No wonder there is a move to reduce the number of Constables coming from the upper echelons of both parties. They want the power to remain in hands that are both reliable to them and also few in number. Maybe that is part of what is really behind this move.