Mower, Freeborn officials disagree

Published 7:44 am Thursday, May 19, 2011

Deputy Auditor-Treasurer Kay Kuster takes some of the first ballots of the night from Mapleview during last November’s election. The auditor-treasurer and recorder’s offices could be reshaped if the county board is able to appoint the currently elected posts. - Herald file photo

Bill reveals neighbors’ differing stances on whether Recorder and Auditor-Treasurer should be elected

In Mower County, it’s seen as a move to save money and ensure the most qualified person leads departments.

In Freeborn County, it’s viewed as taking away a vote.

The bill to make the recorder and auditor-treasurer positions appointed rather than elected in Mower, Freeborn and Marshall counties has revealed a difference in opinion in two neighboring counties.

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Economics is driving the push to make the positions appointed in Mower County, as officials argue the board could combine the auditor-treasurer and recorder positions under one department and possibly save more than $70,000 a year.

“Everything is about job sharing anymore, and this is what we have to do to be up to date with what’s going on in the world,” said Tim Gabrielson, chairman of the Mower County Board of Commissioners.

But on Tuesday, the Freeborn County board unanimously voted to inform the Legislature that it doesn’t want to participate.

“I am pleased that our board made a strong statement for the taxpayers’ right to vote for recorder and auditor-treasurer,” Freeborn County Chairman Dan Belshan said in an e-mail. “County commissioners control the budgets of those offices, so if cost-saving measures are found, the board could take those measures now without appointments.”

Freeborn County Administrator John Kluever said the resolution doesn’t necessarily take Freeborn off the bill. It’s a message outlining Freeborn’s stance.

In Mower County, Gabrielson said the change would be positive for taxpayers.

“I think that it gives us a chance to combine a couple of offices that it will be advantageous both service-wise for our customers, and it’s also going to save the taxpayers money,” Gabrielson said.

Along with the savings, appointment will improve efficiency and ensure the most qualified person is in a leadership role, Gabrielson argued.

“If we can be more efficient and get somebody just as good or better, you can’t argue that logic,” he said.

If the positions become appointed, there’s no guarantee Recorder Jill Cordes or Auditor-Treasurer Doug Groh will fill the combined department head role. Gabrielson said the post would be wide open for applicants.

However, he noted, the move has nothing to do with removing either from the county’s payroll.

“We’re not trying to get rid of either one of them,” Grabrielson said.

Last week, Belshan said he trusts the public’s discretion.

“I think that the public is very intelligent on who to select for those positions, and I trust the public,” Belshan said.

In fact, Belshan said he’d like to see more officials elected, including watershed boards. Belshan said there should be a bill to elect anyone who can levy taxes.

“This is the opposite of my philosophy,” he said.

While Murray voted for the bill, Rep. Jeanne Poppe voted against it.

Last year, Rep. Jeanne Poppe carried legislation in the House to appoint the recorder. However, the bill faced heavy opposition.

“It’s difficult to get it through the legislature,” she said previously. “It becomes a very political — not partisan — debate.”

While Gabrielson said he respects Belshan’s stance about losing votes, he argued few voters know a lot about the auditor-treasurer and recorder positions or the qualifications of candidates.

“It can end being more of a popularity contest,” Gabrielson said.

The two posts are not the only county offices being merged. Environmental Services and the Highway Department may be combined, and so will Health and Human services.

“We are looking at merging numerous things,” he said.

Gabrielson said the board will continue looking for ways to save money.

“We’re going to have some hard decisions to make in the upcoming months,” he said.