Swift Co., Minn., enters new phase with retirements of auditor, deputy auditor
BENSON — Tuesday was the first day in 31 years that Byron Giese didn’t worry about a long list of budget numbers and deadline dates that are crucial to the operation of the Swift County government.
Tuesday was Giese’s last day on the job.
All those numbers, he said, don’t matter to him anymore.
“It feels great,” said Giese, 59. “It really does.”
There was a buzz in the auditor’s department Tuesday as Giese and Chief Deputy Auditor LoAnn Hagen — who has worked for the county for 35 years — prepared to retire together and walk out the door of the Swift County Courthouse for the last time.
Hagen got teary when a bouquet of flowers arrived from her children, congratulating her on her retirement day.
Giese just grinned and said if he did cry — which he doubted he would do — his tears would be for “happiness.”
He talked about all the things he is going to do in retirement — go fishing, plant his two-acre vegetable garden, raise chickens and volunteer for community organizations.
While reflecting on his years as county auditor, Giese said he has enjoyed his tenure and is proud of where the county is at today, with a healthy budget, solid infrastructure and hard-working staff.
“Swift County is in great shape,” he said.
He points to the $2 million loan the county was able to make to the Swift County-Benson Hospital for a capital improvement project, as well as other loans from its economic development revolving loan fund to help local businesses expand.
Giese ran a tight ship and made sure the county was always one of the first in the state to get tax statements completed.
He is quick to acknowledge past mistakes. He calls them “blips.”
There was the time about 27 years ago when he misplaced a decimal point when calculating taxes for a school district that turned an $18 million figure into an erroneous $1.8 million figure.
“We got through it,” he said.
Quickly evolving technology brought the biggest changes to how the office functions, said Giese.
When computers were first used for tax statements, it took 48 hours to complete the printing process. He would fire up the printer on a Friday night and sleep in the office to resolve paper jams and keep feeding paper into a dot matrix printer.
Today that same process takes two hours.
A big part of his job was working closely with the County Board of Commissioners, including attending the regular meetings. He said there was a five-year stretch when he never missed a single board meeting.
That did take its toll, however.
During one meeting he got a call informing him that his father had died. During another meeting the call came that his mother had passed away. Thirteen years ago his son called during a board meeting to say that he had cancer, which he ultimately beat.
“Now I am going to cry,” said Giese, reaching for a tissue.
Giese spent Tuesday doing an exit audit and finished clearing out his desk; including taking home two dieffenbachia plants that he brought to the courthouse on his first day on the job 31 years ago.
He also had some advice for the new employees who are filling the gaps that he and Hagen are leaving. “Take ownership and don’t be afraid to make decisions,” he said. “Expect bumps in the road, but in the end it’ll all work out.”
Giese’s early retirement before the end of his four-year elected term was part of what prompted the Swift County Commissioners to change the county’s organizational structure.
Mike Pogge-Weaver was hired 2½ months ago as the county auditor. He and a newly hired assistant, Amanda Ness, will take on some of the duties that Giese and Hagen had done.
Voters agreed to make the auditor an appointed position. Kimberly Saterbak took over as the new county auditor a week ago. She will be responsible for the financials and elections.