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County seeks special legislation to appoint auditor and recorder

WILLMAR — Kandiyohi County will make another attempt to have special legislation passed to allow appointment, rather than election, of the county auditor/treasurer and recorder.

Last year legislation to do so was introduced, but it never made it to the floor for a vote.

The County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday that sets the ball rolling again for this legislative session.

That unanimous vote, however, does not mean all the commissioners support the idea of appointing individuals who are currently elected by the public and it does not mean the change will actually happen.

Commissioner Dean Shuck of rural Sunburg, a longtime opponent of the proposal, said he is “not in favor” of making the switch but is “not opposed to moving the process ahead.”

If legislation is approved, that process would eventually include another vote by the County Board with approval from at least four of the five commissioners required. At that point Shuck said he will vote against it.

“I don’t think I could ever vote to do it,” said Shuck in an interview.

Sen. Lyle Koenen, DFL-Clara City, and Rep. Mary Sawatazky, DFL-Willmar, have agreed to carry the legislation for the county.

Koenen said he will carry the county’s bill in the Senate but at the same time will attempt to make changes in state law that would allow counties to make the change without legislative approval. He wants that provision, however, to involve some kind of the public voice and input.

Koenen said the appointment of county officials appears to be a growing trend, yet he is not entirely sold that it’s a good idea.

He said those that argue in favor of appointment say being a county recorder or auditor take special skills and that the public might elect someone without those skills, and therefore those positions should be appointed by the county commissioners.

“But I believe in the democratic process,” said Koenen. “You could also argue that commissioners could make a mistake and hire the wrong people too.”

Given tight budgets, Koenen said he understands counties are looking for ways to streamline operations by combining offices and having employees share duties across department lines, which plays into many counties’ decisions to appoint officials.

That’s a primary driver for Kandiyohi County, which is in the midst of implementing new organizational structures in several departments.

Sawatzky and Koenen said the research stage of the legislation has begun but the county’s bill has not been introduced yet.

“We’re just starting to go to work on this,” said Koenen, adding, “Although personally I have some hesitations about it, I’m going to work with it.”

County Administrator Larry Kleindl said he believes 10 counties will be seeking legislation this year to appoint one or more posts that are currently filled by election.

Last year Swift County was unable to get special legislation to appoint the auditor and recorder. They took the alternate route by putting the issue on the ballot in November, and voters there approved making the switch to appointed positions.

Swift County has already begun to implement those changes.

Even if special legislation is approved for Kandiyohi County, there are additional steps required, including publication of the resolution for two consecutive weeks, a public hearing and approval by 80 percent of the membership of the County Board.

There is also a window of opportunity for the public to demand the issue be put to a public vote in a reverse referendum. That requires a petition signed by at least 10 percent of the county’s registered voters to be submitted within 30 days of the second publication of the resolution.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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