Mille Lacs County Courthouse

A public hearing to move the Mille Lacs County Auditor-Treasurer position from an elected position to an appointed position was held at the Mille Lacs County Historic Courthouse on Aug. 27.

The county auditor-treasurer position was vacated by former Mille Lacs County Auditor-Treasurer Phil Thompson who retired after 41 years with the county in late August. Paul Prokosch, who most recently served as the fiscal supervisor in the community and services department for the county, was appointed as interim.

Mille Lacs County Administrator Pat Oman said, “The motion outlines the history of legislation revised last year in regards to appointing a county auditor-treasurer. The board went through an intent to move through the process and have a public hearing today.” He added that the process began with a public notice, then a public testimony, and will then require a supermajority of board vote (with four out of five commissioners voting to support).

Oman stated that all 87 counties have been on board with the process, partnering with MACO (Minnesota Association of County Officers) and AMC (Association of Minnesota Counties) to get legislation appropriated.

The public hearing was opened with no one in attendance speaking for or against the measure.

Oman added that several counties have passed this resolution as the position is a crucial one in the county that as an elected position doesn’t require a skillset, but would have more stringent requirements as an appointed position. “We want to make sure that we have someone in place that has qualifications, but this resolution also reserves democracy in that the public has input and can form a petition,” said Oman.

What the “provision is” about and what the “provision is not” about was shared in a letter from MACO and AMC. MACO represents the Minnesota county auditor-treasurers, and AMC represents all 87 Minnesota counties. AMC has been working on this legislation for 15 years, and both AMC and MACO have been collaborating for more than five years on this legislation to appoint an auditor-treasurer. Mille Lacs County like other counties has supported this legislation through AMC.

Listed in the letter on what this “provision is” about includes the following:

• Providing local control. HF 968/SF 1731 would take the routine, yet challenging, process of asking for legislative approval for individual county administrative structure decisions out of Saint Paul and back to local communities where elected county board commissioners will make the decision that best reflects what their local communities need.

• Protecting the current elected incumbent. This language both protects and honors the current elected officer by limiting a change in structure to: 1) a vacancy or 2) requiring county boards to enter into a signed contract/agreement with the incumbent guaranteeing tenure, pay, and equal benefits.

• Modernizing an archaic system. Minnesota once had over 20 positions ranging from superintendent to county coroner directly elected by the people. Now, more than 80 percent of Minnesotans are represented by an appointed county officer. Today, more than ever, counties and local governments are being forced to do more with less and to creatively approach how they offer services. Many counties have successfully passed individual pieces of legislation to redefine the rolls of traditional offices by increasing their capacities or reformatting offices to meet the unique needs of their residents. While no county is the same, this bill would allow local governments to make decisions based on a model that suits them best.

• Preserving democracy and promoting public discussion and vetting of an important county decision. HF 968/SF 1731 would guarantee citizens a voice and role in the process by requiring double the regular notice period for county board agendas; requiring public testimony be made available during the board meeting; and most importantly, providing a venue for citizens to overturn the county board’s decision by gathering a simple petition of 10 percent of county eligible voters.

Listed in the letter about what this provision “is not” about includes the following:

• A usurping of voter control. Some critics may argue that this bill usurps citizen control by taking a decision away from voters. This bill is about local control and allowing directly-elected county board commissioners—who are accountable to their constituencies—the right to choose what system works best for their constituents and their taxpayers. Moreover, the language in HF 968/SF 1731 guarantees citizens will have an active role in these decisions as well as the ultimate authority of overriding a board’s decision by submitting a petition with only 10 percent of registered voters in the county.

• An attack on current auditor/treasurer/recorders. The Minnesota Association of County Officers (MACO), a group representing county officers, supports this bill as it honors the currently serving elected officers while guaranteeing that the good work of these same officials continues as appointed officers.

• A uniform mandate for all counties to change to an appointed system of county officers. Not all counties will choose to appoint officers under this system. This bill would simply provide a consistent and transparent statewide mechanism to allow counties to make the decision locally.

The Mille Lacs County Board joins approximately one-third of Minnesota’s counties to move forward with this special legislation and voted unanimously to approve the resolution to allow the position of county auditor-treasurer to move from an elected position to a board-appointed position.

The public has 30 days (from Aug. 27) to gather signatures of 10 percent of registered voters to move the decision into the hands of the voters and require a referendum.

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