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Decision delayed on appointing or electing Kandiyohi County officers

Kandiyohi County Auditor Sam Modderman looks at a ballot Dec. 30 while flanked by representatives with the Coleman and Franken camaigns during a recount of absentee ballots in Willmar. The County Board is debating whether two officials should be elected by the public or appointed by the county commissioners. The decision, delayed until Feb. 17, would affect Modderman and County Recorder Julie Kalkbrenner. Tribune file photo

WILLMAR -- A decision on whether two county officials should be appointed by the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners, or continue to be elected by the public, has been delayed until Feb. 17.

Commissioners are hoping to get public input by then to help them decide what action to take.

The commissioners are considering whether the auditor/treasurer and recorder posts should be appointed.

Currently county voters elect people to those jobs.

County Recorder Julie Kalkbrenner told the commissioners it was "ironic" that men and women in the military were fighting to help other countries vote, "when we seem to be doing just the opposite."

The change is being considered because the knowledge and expertise needed for both positions has become increasingly complicated and technical. There are no minimum professional requirements to run for the positions, which could create problems if someone is elected who is not capable of doing the job.

Kalkbrenner and auditor/treasurer Sam Modderman have always earned high praise from commissioners and they would most certainly be appointed if the change was made prior to their retirement. Their four-year terms end in 2010.

"We're just looking to the future," said Commissioner Richard Larson.

If commissioners want to make a change, there are two ways to do it, said County Administrator Larry Kleindl.

Under state law, the commissioners can pass a simple resolution and have the question put on the ballot in a general election.

Another option gives counties the opportunity to seek special legislation, which would require public hearings and a four-fifths majority vote by the commissioners. Under this option, if 10 percent of registered voters filed a petition, a reverse referendum would be required and the question would be put on the ballot.

Commissioner Richard Falk does not like the idea of asking for special legislation. He said he doesn't think Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, would agree to carry the bill in the Legislature.

"How would I handle it here? I honest to God don't know," said Juhnke in a later telephone interview.

He said he hasn't voted in favor of that kind of legislation in the past.

Juhnke said he could introduce the bill "upon request" which means he's neither for nor against it. Doing that would get the bill "in the mix" for legislators to consider, but he said he might end up voting against it.

Juhnke said he understands the "legitimate" concerns county commissioners have about job qualifications for the positions. "I just believe people should vote and have a say," he said.

Kalkbrenner told the commissioners that if the method is changed, she hopes it would be put on the ballot. "It should be up to the people," she said.

Modderman, who was at the meeting in his official capacity, did not make any public comments on the issue.

While saying he did not want to "offend" Modderman and Kalkbrenner, Madsen promoted the option of seeking special legislation, in part because mandatory public hearings would be conducted that would help gauge public opinion. "It gives us an opportunity to have some very good in-depth discussions," Madsen said.

Commissioner Dennis Peterson said appointing the positions would meet new demands of having government run more like a business. He said putting the issue on the ballot would likely result in its failure.

Although there are no minimum standards to be elected to the job, Kalkbrenner told the commissioners that the Minnesota Association of County Officers provides training and accreditation for recorders to keep up with new demands. She also noted that there are no minimum standards to be elected to the County Board.

While there are stories of incompetent people being elected to recorder or auditor positions, she said there are also stories of county commissioners appointing relatives who were not qualified to do the jobs.

Kalkbrenner said elected officials would be "more likely to speak up" about problems with the county than someone appointed by the commissioners.

Madsen said he was eager to hear comments from the public before voting in two weeks.

The county currently elects its surveyor, but appointing that position does not require legislation or a public vote. The commissioners can make that change through a simple vote and resolution.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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