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December 12, 2019

11/14/2019 5:37:00 PM
Board votes 4-1 to make auditor-treasurer appointed

The voters of Chisago County could be losing one more county official that they used to elect. The county auditor-treasurer  will become an appointee of the Board, on a 4-1 commissioner vote last week setting the transition into motion.  At one time assessor was an elected position, the county recorder was an elected position and these two were made appointees.  Now the auditor-treasurer position held by Dennis Freed, is on its way to being appointed.

The Minnesota Legislature in the last session-- re-established how County Boards can go about changing the status of certain elected posts.
Freed, with Chisago County for  40-plus years, recently requested to negotiate a contract with the county, which is the necessary starting point to taking auditor-treasurer off the ballot under the new state law.

Chisago County Commissioner Mike Robinson asked what happens if the contract doesn’t pan-out.  Staff advised this is just an option the Board has chosen.  At any step the process could breakdown and the post would remain elected.

County citizens  now have 30 days to petition to un-do what this vote puts in motion.  The petition would require a special vote on rescinding the appointment action, and needs to have 10 percent of resident eligible voters signed-onto it.

Freed hasn’t declared if he’s stepping down.  The law requires the office-holder to also notify the County Board when he’s not running for office again.

The contract will come to the Board for approval, in essence letting him continue to hold office.

If a contract is successfully negotiated making the auditor-treasurer an appointed job, it would mean Freed’s successor can readily be appointed and doesn’t have to run for office.

There was no discussion by the commissioners on the motion by Mike Robinson. The Board in past years has asked for enabling legislation for the ability to do this, and this legislative compromise was supported by the Association of MN Counties.   Commissioner Robinson joked if the Board doesn’t make use of this new authority the state granted the counties--  the county might as well not ask for anything ever again from the legislature.  

Commissioner Ben Montzka was the lone vote in opposition. He did not explain his no vote.

The appointment authority law also sets up how an appointment can be rescinded, should a county board want to fire an appointed office-holder.  

Due process calls for a written notice, and a hearing if requested by the auditor- treasurer, to review the grounds for discharge. The subject must be paid while suspended during this process.  

An arbitrator can decide to discharge or retain the office-holder.  An arbitration hearing for preliminary considerations is closed -- unless the subject of the action asks for it to be open to the press and public.

 The law also states no changes can be made by the County Board for three years once the appointment resolution is adopted by the County Board and the petition deadline is passed.  After three years there can be a Board resolution putting a question on a ballot, to be voted on by the people,  to change back to seating through being elected.

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