Bill would allow easier path to appoint county officials
ST. PAUL -- A few Minnesota counties annually seek legislative approval to turn elected offices into appointed ones. Now, a bill making its way through legislative committees would give county commissions and the public a new way to decide if the...
ST. PAUL - A few Minnesota counties annually seek legislative approval to turn elected offices into appointed ones.
Now, a bill making its way through legislative committees would give county commissions and the public a new way to decide if the change makes sense for them.
The Senate State and Local Government Committee Wednesday unanimously approved a bill by Sen. Sandra Pappas, D-St. Paul, to set up a procedure for appointing county auditors, treasurers and recorders.
Nearly 30 counties have gone to appointed recorders and a majority of Minnesota counties have opted out of the traditional system of separately electing auditors and treasurers. Almost half of the state’s 87 counties elect combined auditor-treasurers, while some counties appoint their treasurer-auditors and St. Louis County elects its auditor and appoints its treasurer.
“It does not mandate any change,” Pappas said about her bill.
She offered a similar bill 20 years ago, but then-Gov. Arne Carlson vetoed it. This year’s bill comes after years of negotiations among groups representing various county officials.
Pappas bill provisions include:
• If the current official wants to remain in office, the office must remain elected unless county commissioners sign a document promising to appoint the official with the same pay and benefits as when the office was elective.
• If an official decides not to seek re-election, county commissioners may pass a resolution making the office appointive. At least 80 percent of commissioners must approve.
• Within 30 days of the commissioners’ vote, a petition with at least 10 percent of registered voters’ signatures would force an election to decide whether the office is elected or appointed.
• County commissioners would appoint the official.
Existing law allows for local voters to decide if offices are appointive or elected, but Chisago County Administrator Bruce Messelt said that for a variety of reasons counties prefer to seek legislative approval to make a change.
Messelt, a former Moorhead city manager who grew up in Duluth, said that asking the public vote on making an office appointive gets little attention unless there is a controversy. “Good organizational decision making ... and sound fiscal management don’t make for interesting ballot questions,” he said.
Stearns County Auditor-Treasurer Randy Schreifels said that decisions to appoint an official usually only follow a retirement.
The Pappas bill requires a public hearing before commissioners can make a decision, Schreifels said.