Board blasts Groh, freezes 2014 salary

Published 10:28 am Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A contentious year between the county board and Auditor-Treasurer Doug Groh came to a close at Tuesday’s board meeting with commissioners making a blunt assessment of Groh’s job performance.

Not only did the board freeze Groh’s 2014 salary at $69,374 while increasing pay for County Attorney Kristen Nelsen, Sheriff Terese Amazi and Recorder Jill Cordes, but the board also hinted it would have decreased Groh’s salary if possible.

Salaries of elected officials

Salaries of elected officials

“Minnesota statute does not permit the reduction of an elected official’s salary during current term of office,” Commissioner Tony Bennett said, reading from a prepared statement. Bennett sits on the personnel committee. “Based on this law we will not be recommending a decrease in pay.”

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In July, the Office of the State Auditor filed a report after an investigation into a $500 cash shortage discovered in the auditor-treasurer’s office on Oct. 11, 2012. During a daily balancing procedure, county staff found $500 missing. The report stated Groh then balanced the shortage out of his office’s $2,000 change fund. The county reported the loss to law enforcement Nov. 26, 2012, and to the Office of the State Auditor on Nov. 27, 2012. The change fund has since been lowered to $600.

Later in July, the board voted unanimously to have the county recorder’s office take over vital statistics records, or records of a person’s birth, death, marriage and other information. Groh cautioned the board against moving the records, warning it could cause liabilities for the county and taking it from his department would make their work more difficult. Groh accused the board of attempting to diminish his office to try to remove him.

In August, an altercation led both Groh and Welsh to accuse the other of being verbally abusive after an altercation when Groh asked Welsh to provide records on school taxes for an audit. The board voted to limit contact between Groh and Finance Director Donna Welsh to emails or letters, with a human resources or county administration representative present during face-to-face meetings.

There have been disagreements between County Coordinator Craig Oscarson, Groh and the board over the authority of Groh’s and other offices.

Over the summer, Groh said he has allowed the board to walk over him long enough and plans to speak out more, which he did in August. Groh said he feels intimidated at work and thinks Oscarson is taking steps to isolate his office.

“This has always been a hostile workplace for me,” Groh said.

Bennett said Tuesday that Groh declined to meet and share requested data with the personnel committee. Bennett also said the personnel committee has received several complaints from citizens and department heads regarding “the auditor-treasurer creating unnecessary work, his communication style, and general lack of cooperation.”

“The auditor-treasurer stated at a personnel committee meeting that he does not like to personally help customers at the window and inferred such work was ‘beneath’ him,” Bennett said, reading from a prepared statement.

Groh was not present at the meeting.

Last year, the county board increased Groh’s salary from about $68,200 to $69,374 after freezing his salary the previous two years. At the time, Bennett told the board Groh’s review found he had improved in several areas.

Though displeased with his performance this year, the county board has few options. Because Groh is an elected official, the county board cannot fire him. He was last elected in 2010, when he ran unopposed. He is up for re-election in 2014.