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Special legislation for Kandiyohi County, Minn., finds itself in limbo

WILLMAR -- Kandiyohi County officials are still waiting for final action on a piece of special legislation that would allow the county to continue a process to explore appointing, rather than electing, the auditor/treasurer and recorder.

The bill was app-roved earlier this month in the Senate but has not been taken up by the full House.

"We're in a wait-and-see mode," said County Administrator Larry Kleindl.

The legislation itself would not make the positions appointed, but it is a necessary step in the process for the county to even consider making the change.

But the bill is in limbo and may not be heard before the 2012 session is over.

"Right now it is kind of stalled," said Rep. Bruce Vogel, R-Willmar, adding that he's been encouraging the GOP leadership to bring the bill to the House floor.

"But at this point there's no clear indication it'll be heard," said Vogel, in a telephone interview Thursday afternoon from the State Capitol.

"But we're still working on it," he said. "We're not going to give up on it until we're done."

Other counties have received the legislative blessing in the past that allowed them to make the change from elected to appointed positions such as auditor/treasurer and recorder.

But Vogel said it is a "controversial-type bill" that has opposition from both sides of the aisle.

Some legislators, including Rep. Andrew Falk, DFL-Murdock, have taken a strong stand against legislation that would reduce the public's ability to vote for a county office-holder.

In a previous news release, Falk said the county offices are complex jobs but he trusts voters to make well-informed decisions when electing people to fill those posts. "If a person fails to do their job well, the voters will elect someone new," said Falk.

Last year, Falk and the late Sen. Gary Kubly refused to carry similar legislation for Swift County.

Falk has said that the legislators' actions were based on the public's wishes.

At the unanimous request of the Swift County Commissioners, Vogel and Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar, had agreed to add Swift County onto their bill for Kandiyohi County.

That created a legislative kerfuffle that resulted in Vogel and Gimse pulling their bill off the table. Kandiyohi County's request is now meshed with legislation for Dodge, Clay and Jackson counties.

Even though Vogel isn't the chief author of the bill anymore, he said he's been lobbying both sides to make sure there would be enough votes to pass the bill if it does come to the floor.

"I'm still hoping. I'm still pushing," said Vogel, acknowledging that this type of legislation "has always been a contentious bill."

Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck, who also represents a corner of Kandiyohi County, said he would support the bill if it comes to the House floor for a vote.

If the legislation is approved, Kandiyohi County would still have to publish a resolution, conduct a public hearing and take a final vote that would require approval by four of the five members of the Board of Commissioners.

A petition with signatures of 10 percent of registered voters in the county could also force the issue onto the ballot in November.

Meanwhile, Swift County is trying to figure out options to restructure its county, where the recorder resigned earlier this year and the auditor, Byron Giese, has announced he will resign next year. The county also has an elected treasurer.

The Swift County Commissioners had thought the retirements would present a good opportunity to switch to appointed positions. But without special legislation that route is trickier.

Giese said the Swift County Board will conduct a special meeting Monday with Jim Mulder, the former executive of the Association of Minnesota Counties who's been speaking around the state about government reorganization, to see if he has any ideas for the county.

Carolyn Lange

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

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