Weather Forecast


Voters to decide if auditor and recorder will be appointed in Swift County, Minn.

Voters will soon decide if two key positions at the Swift County Courthouse will be appointed or elected. Tribune photo by Tom Larson

BENSON -- Voters in Swift County will decide if the county auditor and recorder should be appointed positions rather than elected posts.

The commissioners agreed earlier this month to put the question to voters on the November general election ballot.

The commissioners still need to decide on the wording on the ballot, but it is likely to be just one question, rather than separate questions for each of the two offices.

"The voters will tell them whether or not they agree," said County Auditor Byron Giese, who said he supports switching to appointment. Giese is retiring April 30, about eight months before his term ends. The county's deputy auditor is also retiring next year.

The last elected recorder, Donna Lilleberg, retired earlier this year, about two years before her term ended.

An interim has been appointed.

The county treasurer will remain an elected position because the current treasurer, Ron Vadnais, preferred to seek re-election rather than be appointed.

The board agreed to honor Vadnais' opinion and leave that office an elected job, said Jim Mulder, a consultant who is helping lead the county through a process to redesign some of the administrative functions of the county.

Voter approval of the appointed positions is a key piece to that plan, which also includes hiring an administrator.

The commissioners are expected to hear proposals next month from at least two head-hunting firms about how to search for candidates for the administrative job and the timeline for accomplishing that goal.

Giese said the board hopes to have an administrator hired by the end of the year.

Because auditors in small counties are "catch-all" positions that have acquired new duties over the years with an evolving job description, Mulder said it would be very difficult to find someone who could do all that Giese does now.

With the retirement of key county officials and the need to become more efficient while providing county services, Mulder said it makes sense for Swift County to revamp its administration.

"The county's in good shape. I'm happy they have these options," Giese said.

If the changes are approved, the commissioners will have greater flexibility in divvying up the duties of the different county offices, Mulder said.

For example, there may not be one specific individual doing the duties traditionally done by the auditor, Mulder said. Instead, some of those jobs will be done by a new administrator, accounting professional or assessor. The commissioners recently placed the county assessor -- which is an appointed position -- on administrative leave and voted not to renew his contract. The position has not yet been filled.

The old model of electing people to do specific jobs "doesn't work the way it used to," Mulder said.

While the changes may not save the county money in the short term, Mulder said regrouping job responsibilities will make it easier for residents to obtain information and services in one place.

Taxpayers will get "more value for your dollar," he said, adding that the county will also be able to recruit professionals to jobs that have become increasingly more difficult and will have recourse to discipline appointed officials if they are not doing their jobs.

The commissioners are allowed to provide basic facts and information about the referendum question and the effects of appointing rather than electing the two offices, but they are prohibited from encouraging people to vote one way or the other.

"I think if people understand what the county is doing, I think the public will support it," said Mulder.

Carolyn Lange

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

(320) 894-9750