When officials double up, representation suffers

Johnson City Press • Updated Feb 9, 2018 at 10:26 AM

Johnson City Commissioner Ralph Van Brocklin should be tired from all the running.

After successfully completing a race in 2016 to retain his seat, now he says he is 95 percent certain he will run for a spot on the Washington County Commission.

If he wins, Van Brocklin plans to serve on both commissions simultaneously, but we think he should give someone else the chance to lead.

Should 14th District voters elect him this year, he wouldn’t be the first to sit on both the city and county commissions. David Tomita sat on both boards for nearly four years, and he only resigned from his county seat when he was named Johnson City’s mayor.

City Commissioner Joe Wise vacated his seat on the County Commission after he was elected to the City Commission, but he also spent a considerable amount of time as a county commissioner and chairman of the Johnson City Regional Planning Commission.

Pulling elected double duty is apparently legal, according to city and county attorneys who gave Tomita the go-ahead, but it reduces the number of voices speaking for the residents of Washington County and Johnson City.

Van Brocklin says he’s confident he can handle the duties of two public offices and his full-time job as an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, but why push the limits?

If doing both becomes too taxing, Van Brocklin’s options are to resign from one seat, leaving it up to one of the commissions to choose his replacement instead of the electorate, or to hang on as best he can, which may negatively affect his representation of the people who elected him.

Should a matter arise that puts the city and the county at odds, such as an annexation challenge or the county’s lawsuit against the city to recover liquor-by-the-drink tax collections, Van Brocklin’s only option would be to abstain from the discussions and votes, completely eliminating his input.

A better option is to elect a variety of public officials who understand the value of cooperation and compromise and who will reject tribalism to work together — whether on the county or city commission — for what’s best for residents.

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