Allegheny County Council's skirmish over whether County Executive Dan Onorato (and all future officeholders) should have to take a leave of absence when running for governor could be put down to partisan mischief -- after all, this proposed ordinance was defeated Wednesday night on a 10-4 vote, with the Democrats opposed and the Republicans in favor.
It could also be put down to amnesia. It is only 10 years since the three-commissioner system was replaced with a county executive and a county council, but already the arguments on behalf of the new system seem to have been forgotten.
A reminder: County Council was conceived as a chamber of citizen legislators. As such, its members would receive only a minimal salary to compensate them for their time and effort -- $9,000 a year, plus $3,000 in allowable expenses.
It was understood that they were not there to make a career of it, unlike their counterparts on Pittsburgh City Council or the state Legislature. If they wanted to pursue a political career, they had to resign from doing their public service on County Council to pursue it.
The ordinance to make Mr. Onorato take an unpaid leave while he ran for governor was proposed by Councilman Matt Drozd, R-Ross. Councilman Vince Gastgeb, R-Bethel Park, said Mr. Drozd had a point -- there's a double standard when the county executive can run for office and County Council members have to resign.
That's right. But that's the system discussed and approved by the voters in a referendum a decade ago. Moreover, the double standard not only makes sense as it applies to council members -- the citizen legislator model is a good one -- but it also makes sense in giving greater freedom to a county executive. That position is a natural steppingstone to higher political office -- in fact, it is one of the highest such steppingstones in the commonwealth.
Anyone who has been county executive of Allegheny County has served a valuable apprenticeship that fits the person to consider an office such as governor. Unlike County Council members, Mr. Onorato has a platoon of staff members who can carry on in his absence.
It makes no more sense to ask Mr. Onorato to stand down than it would to ask Attorney General Tom Corbett to take a leave while he runs for governor. That said, it would be nice if both men kept a strict accounting of their hours spent campaigning (as opposed to doing the public's business) and deducted their salaries accordingly. That would be politics as unusual -- and a great example for the taxpayers.