How do you act as a check on someone by just doing what they say?

DN letter-writer Dave Dougherty, a Deputy Sheriff’s Officer, is unhappy with the paper for the stance it took on the Sheriff’s Office last week. After current Sheriff John Green announced his retirement, the DN editorialized that Council should seriously consider doing away with the Sheriff as an independently elected position, and folding its responsibilities into other departments. Says Dougherty:

The very things that make us the country we are with the form of government we enjoy are the checks and balances included in the Constitution and our City Charter that are designed to ensure a fair way to administer the law.

The business of the sheriff's office is to execute law for the courts and carry out their judgments, be it serving writs and warrants, conducting sheriff's sales or prisoner transport and court security.

It's important that we have a balance between the courts and police and have someone neutral to ensure no one entity has absolute power. That's what the sheriff's office is meant to be, along with being a steady revenue-generating agency for Philadelphia County.

The thing we fail to understand here is how the Sheriff – without any decision-making authority about which criminals to charge, what to charge them with, or what sentences to pursue – is providing any sort of “check” on the authority of either courts or police. Rather, as Dougherty says, it is performing an administrative function by executing their orders. Now, it’s important this function be performed well, as he goes on to say. And it may be that the present department does a good job, if a little too expensively. But we’re still not sure why the person who oversees the operation needs to be chosen via an election that no one pays attention to.

Philadelphia would still be a democracy if it did away with some of the little-known offices that clog our ballots and allowed voters to focus their attention on a reasonable number of familiar positions. The people in those positions would, in turn, be responsible for holding other administrators accountable.

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