Editorials

Franklin auditor flap unbecoming for all

We all know politics can be a dirty business.

But we do expect that some folks will stay above the fray, especially those who have a lengthy record of exemplary public service.

In Franklin County, the auditor's race got ugly this year, with a county commissioner and the current auditor firing off unprofessional e-mails regarding perceptions about each other's conduct.

Zona Lenhart, a Democrat who has served as auditor in Franklin County for 21 years, was in a tight race to hold onto her position against Republican Matt Beaton.

The race took a petty turn early on, when a question was raised over whether it was appropriate for Lenhart's name to appear on the ballot envelopes. As auditor, Lenhart is in charge of elections, and the auditor's address appears on mailings, including ballot envelopes.

Even though there had been state rulings supporting the use of county auditors' names on election mailings, Commissioner Brad Peck, a Republican, thought it wasn't right.

To avoid any appearance of impropriety, Lenhart voluntarily ordered her name removed before the envelopes went to press. It was a gracious response.

The Republican Party also took issue with Lenhart when some ballots went missing on their way to the voters. The party requested a list of voters who did not receive ballots, presumably thinking they might find some evidence of abuse by a Democrat auditor.

But there wasn't any more to the story than a procedural problem at the printer causing some short-term delays. The incident never threatened to disenfranchise any voters, and that fray simmered down as well.

Election results showed only a small margin of votes separated Lenhart and Beaton. It was enough to spark new controversy, with Commissioner Peck leading the charge.

Peck did not believe that Lenhart, who was trailing by more than 100 votes, should be at the elections center when ballots were still being counted.

"I recognize she is the auditor, but the appearance is not helpful in maintaining voter confidence in the process," he said.

We don't blame Lenhart for feeling miffed at what could easily be taken as a veiled accusation of vote tampering. Peck was out of line, but she should have taken a deep breath instead of firing back.

Her accusation against Peck in an e-mail response was even more pointed, and we were disappointed with the lack of professionalism it displayed. We've come to expect better from Lenhart.

No evidence of impropriety has been offered by either side. But for two elected officials to trade accusations back and forth in a public forum over the integrity of the election process does neither side any favors.

It's just a further argument our long-held belief that holding partisan political elections for administrative positions like auditor and treasurer is absurd.

But even under the existing system, it's time to put politics aside.

Beaton takes over as the new auditor in January, and Franklin County voters ought to hold him to a high standard of professional conduct.

Partisanship has nothing to do with the job they elected him to do.

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