County OKs request to appoint positions

MARSHALL – The last in a series of hearings on whether Lyon County should seek legislation to appoint the county auditor/treasurer and recorder drew a mix of public opinions on Tuesday night. After hearing feedback both for and against the idea, commissioners voted unanimously to ask lawmakers to carry a bill allowing appointments.

With a half dozen people present, Tuesday’s hearing was the most well-attended of the meetings that took place around Lyon County in the past two weeks. County board chairman Rick Anderson said commissioners wanted to make sure they gave the public a chance to weigh in on elected versus appointed positions before the board took action on the matter.

“I think we’re trying to make this more of a professional position than a political position,” Anderson said of the auditor/treasurer and recorder offices.

Commissioners said appointing candidates to the two positions could help ensure qualified people get them and allow for greater flexibility in the auditor/treasurer and recorder’s job descriptions.

Lyon County Administrator Loren Stomberg reviewed the legislative process for making the change. If the Minnesota Legislature grants permission for the county to appoint an auditor/treasurer and recorder, the proposal would still require a public comment period and “yes” votes from four out of five county commissioners. However, if at least 10 percent of Lyon County voters petition, they could force a public vote on the issue, Stomberg said.

Members of the public spoke up both for and against the proposal. Bill Chukuske of Tracy and Bruce Herold of Marshall said they were in favor of appointing the two positions. Herold said he was glad the board wanted to look for the most qualified candidates.

“I think we need to hold people accountable for what they do,” Chukuske said. With an appointed position, he said, “if they don’t do the job, you can do something about it.”

“I really believe it should stay an elected position,” said Dick Vroman. When it comes to choosing public officials, he said, “I’m not really convinced that the interview process is the best way to get a good candidate.”

Vroman said he also thought an elected official would be more inclined to listen to public concerns.

Former Lyon County recorder Jeanine Barker had the most criticism for the proposal. She said an elected auditor/treasurer or recorder has a degree of independence that an appointed one does not.

If an official can be hired and fired by the county board, Barker said, “you’ve eliminated any cross-checks for the county commissioners.”

Barker also questioned why the board was pursuing special legislation instead of other methods to appoint an auditor/treasurer and recorder.

“Why not put it on the ballot in November?” Barker said. With the special legislation, decisions about how to govern the county were being made by just four people instead of the public, Barker said.

Commissioner Charlie Sanow disagreed, saying state lawmakers would also be considering the issue before deciding whether or not to grant permission for the change.

Commissioners voted to ask the Legislature for permission to appoint the county auditor/treasurer and recorder. After the vote passed, Stomberg said the next step will be to arrange a meeting with legislators representing Lyon County, and discuss the proposal and public feedback.