Thoughts shared on changing 2 county positions from elected to appointed seats

Published 8:05 pm Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Support and opposition to shifting auditor/treasurer and recorder positions from elected to appointed seats were shared Tuesday during a Freeborn County Board of Commissioners meeting.

Freeborn County District 2 Commissioner Dan Belshan said he wants the positions to remain elected and asked whether it would be possible to have the possible change placed on an election ballot.

“I trust the voters, trust the public,” he said.

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District 1 Commissioner Glen Mathiason noted even if the state allows Freeborn County to change auditor/treasurer and recorder positions to appointed seats, the county will still have final say.

Commissioners plan to discuss the option during a March 12 study session.

In a public forum during the meeting, Al Bakken spoke in favor of keeping the positions elected.

“The election system has been in place for 161 years, so I’d like to keep it that way,” he said.

He said elections allow for the exchanging of ideas and thoughts.

“I like elections,” Bakken said. “I think they’re great.”

Freeborn County Administrator Thomas Jensen noted Minnesota began allowing counties to seek special legislation for the appointment of the officers in 1967. He said as of Feb. 13, nearly all remaining 25 counties with elected officer positions have or are actively exploring special legislation allowing for the appointing of the positions.

He said he wants to ensure qualified candidates are chosen for the positions, adding $180 million in receipts and disbursements go through the Freeborn County Auditor/Treasurer’s Office every year.

Jensen said District 27A Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, and District 27 Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, support the legislation.

In the forum, John Forman asked whether the only reason Freeborn County officials have discussed shifting the positions from elected to appointed was that other counties are exploring the possibility.

“This is a preventative measure,” Jensen said in response.

In other action, the board:

Approved out-of-state travel for Jeremiah Mickelson of the Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office and Emergency Management Director Rich Hall for a court safety and security conference March 5-7 in Appleton, Wisconsin. Commissioners also approved out-of-state travel for Mickelson to attend a prevention and response to suicide bombing event March 25-29 in Socorro, New Mexico.

Approved a Local Road Improvement Program state grant application for funding for the Bridge Avenue project slated for 2020.

“We have received a federal grant in the amount of $5.78 million for the project, so the application is for a portion of the remaining federally funded project need,” Freeborn County Public Works Director Sue Miller said Wednesday in an email. “This would reduce our city and county state aid funding planned for the federal match if we were so successful.”

Miller said she doubts whether the request will be funded this year because it is a non-bonding session.

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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