Voters’ rights at stake

Published 10:06 am Friday, May 20, 2011

Daily Herald editorial

Which is a higher priority: saving money or preserving the public’s right to choose leaders via the ballot box? It’s a question that Mower County commissioners may have to answer before long – and which voters should closely monitor.

At the commissioners’ behest, freshman Rep. Rich Murray has authored legislation that would let commissioners appoint the county auditor-treasurer and recorder, jobs which have traditionally been filled by a county-wide vote. The change, commissioners told Murray and other lawmakers earlier this year, would let them reorganize the auditor-treasurer and recorder jobs to save money.

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Interestingly, Murray’s legislation would also give Freeborn County the ability to appoint its auditor-treasurer and recorder, but Freeborn County commissioners passed a resolution this week asking that they not be excluded in the bill — in part, the board’s chairman said, because they didn’t want to take decisions out of the voters’ hands. Apparently the Freeborn commissioners did not want voters to believe that they were consolidating their own power at the voters’ expense. Why Murray ever included Freeborn County in the bill is puzzling, but outside the scope of this editorial.

The point at hand is the relative merit of saving money vs. voters’ rights. In a period when money is tight, voters (who, of course, are also largely the taxpayers who foot the bill for county operations) would prefer savings to exercising their privileges at the ballot box. Indications are that Mower County commissioners see saving money as the priority; they certainly seemed to lean that way when the idea was discussed at a meeting with lawmakers earlier this year and, if the auditor-treasurer bill becomes law, they may get an opportunity to put that inclination into action.

We will watch with interest the progress of both the bill and the Mower County commissioners’ response if it becomes law. Voters should likewise watch the matter with interest, since their interests are directly at stake.