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Weigh in on appointive offices

On Tuesday of this week the Minnesota House Committee on Governmental Operations was to consider several bills that would alter the way in which some county elective offices may be made appointive.

Since 1973, Minnesota statutes have allowed a county to appoint a county auditor, county treasurer, sheriff or county recorder if the offices have not been abolished by the adoption of other options.

Allowance does not make it so. Neither does it happen without some controversy. Always a county undertaking such a move rightfully ought to air the pros and cons and in some instances must include a referendum.

Recent history has seen Crow Wing County combine the elected offices of auditor and treasurer into a combined elected auditor-treasurer. The county board has discussed, without taking action, the possibility of appointing the auditor-treasurer and recorder offices.

Our legislative delegation expressed a willingness to consider offering enabling legislation, but some were mixed on doing so even if the county board acted to ask for the change until such time as the public was allowed to weigh in.

This editorial comment is presented for the sole purpose of stimulating that “weighing in.”

Government is changing. In Crow Wing County we have made exceptional efforts to streamline our delivery of services, aimed at producing better outcomes while reducing operating costs.

Those efforts have netted a reduced levy without a drop-off in services. Our hard-working employees have recognized the status quo is no longer sufficient for the economically stressed taxpayer. We must continue to do better.

According to the Association of Minnesota Counties, 23 of the 87 counties currently have some appointed offices in what could “traditionally” have been considered elected offices. Many more are seeking an expansion of that ability this year.

I do not advocate for following the herd, but neither do I believe this movement is without basis. Greater state oversight, increased checks and balances, and the push for efficiency of operations all contribute to my willingness to consider.

Do I believe the current elected recorder and auditor-treasurer are inefficient? No.

Do I subscribe to the accusation that the county administrator is simply trying to gain a tighter grip on what he controls? No.

But as a county board member I feel it is my duty to challenge even the most efficient of operations to see if there is another way to make even greater gains. In the words of Pat Riley, “Excellence is the gradual result of always striving to do better.”

Elected offices have served us well in a more agrarian, less technological age, but the tools of the trade are improved from what they once were.

The process to consider the appointment of officers is open and transparent. The process for the combinations requires extensive public notice, a public hearing, the potential for a petition to over-rule the county board’s action, all in a transparent effort to protect the public’s interest in the process. In some counties, efforts to do this have been defeated by voters so the protections are proven to work.

Let the airing begin. And let us not be surprised that office holders, receivers of services and those close to the issue will have strong opinions. They are good people with perspective. Just not the only perspective that should be considered.

(Paul Thiede is Crow Wing County commissioner for District 2, which includes northern Crow Wing County.)