New treasurer ready for challenges

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 6, 2003

Doug Groh is still irritated.

Not until Groh and his Mower County treasurer opponent Lynn Koch debated last summer and fall did the office get the attention he felt it deserved.

"I was wondering when you were going to get around to asking me for an interview," Groh teased, when a reporter came calling this week.

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He could be kidding or he could be serious. Either way, Groh seems determined to give the Mower County treasurer's function a higher profile in county government.

That should not be a problem for several reasons.

Groh and the other elected or re-elected county officials were to be sworn in to their offices in this morning before District Judge Fred Wellmann.

"There are certainly going to be new challenges," Groh said. "That includes new procedures and processes to learn.

"But, you know what they say. First, you have to learn to crawl and then you have to learn to walk and when you're successful at that, you come out running."

Getting elected

Groh's wife, Rita, is a legal secretary. They have a son, Kevin, 15, an Austin High School sophomore and a daughter, Megen, 12, an Ellis Middle School seventh grader.

Groh started working in the Mower County auditor's office in 1989, when Woody Vereide became the county auditor.

Groh, a former accountant at the old Bowly, Anfinson, Crandall, Haedt accounting firm (now LAWCO), became the chief deputy auditor.

Two weeks after defeating Koch, owner of Austin Mortgage Company, he went to work learning the job from Ruth Harris, who retired.

Harris once unsuccessfully ran for the Mower County Auditor's position. It is only part of the courthouse legend of an alleged "history" between the two offices.

The 2002 election campaign found Groh everywhere, visiting small towns, participating in parades, knocking on doors and otherwise waging an energetic campaign.

When the candidate forums came around in the fall of 2002, Groh didn't let up, hammering away at the "experience" issue and Koch's plans to continue as the owner of the Austin Mortgage Company, while also being the county treasurer.

When the Nov. 5 election results were counted, Groh was the winner. Two weeks after the election, he began learning the treasurer's duties from Harris herself.

Linda Ehmke is chief deputy treasurer and Jan Olson is a deputy treasurer. Ehmke, in particular, has a wealth of experience for Groh to draw upon. She worked in the county auditor's office before joining the county treasurer's staff.

And he and Olson were Austin High School geometry classmates.

Thus, the new county treasurer and his staff have a certain familiarity with each other.

"We'll set our priorities and objectives and go from there," he said.

Already, Groh has implemented a new Excel spreadsheet format. It will replace the large, antiquated warrant and miscellaneous collection forms. Groh expects it to bring more efficiency to the office.

Groh said safeguarding public data, as well as improving efficiency of office operations, are the skills he possesses and expects to draw upon.

He is also grateful for Harris' advice.

"Ruth Harris has been helpful and will continue to be helpful when I take office," Groh said. "I consider Ruth Harris a resource I can draw upon in the future."

Looming in the future is the Mower County Board of Commissioners' decision to hire a finance director.

Applications are presently being taken for the position, which, in part, is being created to deal with the continuing growth of the county's fund balances.

The reserves have grown by at least $1.5 million a year under the current investment policy.

Groh was consulted by county officials when the finance director's job description was written.

Groh describes his old chief deputy auditor's position and some of his new county treasurer responsibilities existing in a "state of flux," until the new finance director is hired.

"I do hope they hire a finance director with certified public accountant background and experience," he said.

After 13 years of experience in the county auditor's office, Groh said he learned a lot.

It is part of the reason he feels confident to say he will achieve his top goal for 2003: to implement a new tax collection program.

All of the county treasurer's office staff, as well as pertinent employees in the county assessor's and auditor's offices, will need training before the new program is implemented in September.

The 2002 election was Groh's debut in politics and one he won't forget.

Not only asking the citizens of Mower County for their support, but to receive that support at the ballot boxes resulted in "a great honor entrusted to me."

Groh also said, "I would invite any person to run for elective office. It's a great experience."

Of his old employer, county auditor Vereide, Groh said, "I have always enjoyed a great working relationship and really appreciate that he allowed me to prove I could do the job. He was a very good boss. He employs his employees to perform to the best of their abilities."

Also looming on the horizon is the fact, Uncle Sam may need the new county treasurer.

Groh is a major in the Minnesota Army National Guard and attached to the defense movement coordinator at Camp Ripley.

Presently, Groh spends his drill time working on the deployment of National Guard troops to Bosnia in 2003 as part of the United Nations peace-keeping force.

According to Groh, he does not have any information about the possibility of the county treasurer called to active military duty.

"If that happens, I suppose the county board would appoint an interim treasurer while I am gone," he said.

Groh ran for an office that may be legislated out of existence if the county board members ever decide to combine government offices for the sake of efficiency and cost-savings.

Already, Blue Earth, Fillmore, Dodge and Olmsted counties have all embraced plans to combine the offices in some form or another.

"I'm in favor of what works," Groh said. "and whatever makes for a better workspace."

Lee Bonorden can be contacted at 434-2232 or by e-mail at