Isanti County residents voiced their concern about the potential intent to appoint the office of auditor-treasurer, which has been an elected position.
Many residents sounded the alarm that this change would entail an infringement on their right to vote during the Isanti County Board meeting on April 7. The County Board held a public hearing for people to share their thoughts or concerns about the possible change in the office of auditor-treasurer. Board Chair Susan Morris explained that the board didn’t plan to vote for the change until its members heard from their constituents and other county residents.
“But I think it’d be really, really valuable for all of you to reach out personally to your commissioners, or any of us up here, and actually find out what our rationale is,” Morris said. “And I think once you hear the rationale, you might start thinking differently about it too.”
Chad Struss currently serves as the Isanti County Auditor-Treasurer. He was first elected in November 2014 and was re-elected in November 2018.
Under Minnesota Statute, a County Board may appoint certain offices, including the Auditor-Treasurer. Also, under the statute, it states, the County Board intends to appoint a county Auditor-Treasurer under the following circumstances: “There is a signed contract with the County Board and incumbent Auditor-Treasurer that the incumbent officer will be appointed to the position and retain tenure, pay, and benefits equal to or greater than length of service.”
Isanti County Administrator Julia Lines read several people’s comments regarding their concern about the change.
The first comment was from Veronica Stake, of Cambridge, who said: “I’m unable to be at the public hearing tomorrow morning, but I do want my voice to be heard. I don’t agree with appointing people in jobs in the county. Our constitutional rights are being violated as it is. And we should be supporting the American people’s rights not going along with the ‘push it through’ like Biden administration is doing. The rights should be involved in voting for the right person for this service job. I disagree with appointing, and think we could continue with voting and the people having a choice. We are the American people, adults who have the responsibility to make this decision. Thank you very much.”
The other comments Lines shared were from two residents who asked to remain anonymous: “As a citizen, I feel a lot more comfortable having a financial professional in this seat given the complexities of the position. Counties are likely moving towards this model because of this. That is why county commissioners are elected positions. The administration is held accountable by the Board of Commissioners who are held accountable by the voters.”
“Popularity does not have bearing on (the) ability to do a good job. Electing a judge makes sense,” the third resident said. “But why would a CFO auditor need to mirror the values of a constituency (to) be effective? They should just have a solid work experience and background in county finance.”
Among the people who shared their concerns during the public hearing in person were Tamara Knowles, Scott LaRowe and DeEtta Moos.
“This is a huge, huge concern for American people,” Knowles said. “When you take away us as a community, us as a people, us as citizens of the county and the state, and of the United States, the right to vote who we feel would be a responsible person for … this part of the job, I feel puts things on a pretty slippery slope for all of us that are involved or all of us that live here.”
“I just don’t feel like it’s constitutional to not let us vote for the county auditor,” LaRowe said. “And I see too much corruption with it. I think it should be controlled by the voters and to get a real sharp CPA in. I think they can be manipulated to work for the county rather than for the people and finding new income streams and new ways of taxing us.”
“I don’t think now is the proper time to be making a major change like this to go into appointments rather than elections,” Moos said. “And I would prefer that you would at least wait and give us time to understand how everything is working right now and maybe try pushing this some other time. But now’s not the time when we’re very unsure of our government right now, unsure of who to trust, regardless of the party. We just prefer that we not do appointments right now.”
Isanti County reasoning behind change
Morris explained the reasoning behind the board’s consideration of changing the officer of auditor-treasurer to an appointed position. One of the main issues about the job is that there is no real requirement, Morris said.
“Our county attorney has to be a licensed attorney, pass the bar exam,” she added. “Your sheriff has to be a licensed deputy. There are requirements for those positions.”
The office of auditor-treasurer currently only requires one to be 18 years or older and a resident of the county. The County Board wants the auditor-treasurer position to have minimum requirements, but only the state can create and add qualifications for the job, Morris said.
“We have $45 million that pass through this county every year,” Morris continued. “We up here want to have somebody who is qualified, who knows how to do the job. We have to be accountable to the state auditor every year they come in and check our books and check everything that we do under a microscope. If you don’t have somebody heading that up who’s qualified, who is a CPA, then what are you gonna get?”
The County Board is trying to build a more efficient county government that serves its residents well, Morris said.
“So we’re redesigning how we do this whole thing, what we call county government, because we don’t want to stay on this trajectory of increasing your taxes every year,” she explained. “We have to come up with a new model to serve you better.”
There are 17 departments within the Isanti County Government Center and the County Board is trying to reduce it down to six departments, Morris said.
“So we all can get out of our silos and work more collaboratively together to give you a better form of government. That’s our motive. It’s as simple as that,” she said. “It’s not that we would ever want to take anybody’s rights away.”
For more information about the possible change in the office of auditor-treasurer position, contact the following board commissioners: Chair Susan Morris at 763-286-1953; Vice Chair Terry Turnquist at 320-396-4134; Greg Anderson at 763-444-4497; Mike Warring at 763-444-4261; and Dave Oslund at 612-282-6222.