The Chippewa County commissioners, during this past year, decided to offer the voters a chance to decide on the proposal of making the elected position of County Auditor/Treasurer into an appointed position instead.
When current Chippewa County Auditor/Treasurer Jon Clauson was making plans to retire after a long career with the county, the Chippewa County commissioners started serious discussions about options for filling that position and looking at opportunities for restructuring the position. Jon has been with Chippewa County for a long time. If memory serves me right, he started as an employee in the Treasurer’s office and then ran for, and was elected to, the position of County Treasurer. Following the retirement long-time County Auditor Byron Zurn a number of years ago, the Auditor and Treasurer positions were combined and Jon was subsequently elected to that combined office, a position he has held for the many years since.
The board mulled over reorganizing the county’s offices and possibly adding some staff but decided that would not be their first choice in addressing this situation. They also explored the idea of changing this position, the county’s chief administrative and financial person, into an appointed one. There are a variety of good reasons for doing this but the chief one is the complexities of public finances and the need for administrative, technical and management expertise demand that a fully qualified person is hired to fill that position.
Like all Minnesota counties, Chippewa County is a sizeable operation. With 110 employees and a budget of more than $24 million, the list of duties and responsibilities for the Auditor/Treasurer is long and there’s a true need for management expertise to handle the county’s business and protect the county’s resources.
As they mulled this over, the commissioners concluded that the county would be best served by hiring someone who met the criteria and demands of the position rather than having someone who managed to garner the most votes in an election, regardless of their qualifications, for that key management position. I couldn’t agree more. During these discussions, the county board and the present Chippewa County Recorder Amy Rodeberg also agreed that, given the need for extensive knowledge of property and land records and laws and the necessity for accurate record keeping, the Chippewa County Recorder should also be an appointed position, similar to the majority of counties in Minnesota. The board is not proposing any changes to the County Sheriff and the County Attorney, leaving them as elected positions.
Under the county board’s plan, the county would be best served if the offices of Auditor/Treasurer and County Recorder remain intact but instead be appointed by, and answer directly to, the elected county board. This is a somewhat different than the way Yellow Medicine County is organized. In Yellow Medicine County, the county’s administrative staff is also appointed by the county board but is organized using a model similar to the organization that many cities use.
The Chippewa County proposal would leave in place the present county positions and structure but those two positions would become appointed by the county board.
That, however, depends on the Chippewa County voters agreeing to the idea. The county board can’t decide on its own to make these changes. They must submit it to the voters of the county for their approval. To do that in a timely manner, and in an effort to garner more voter participation in what would likely be a low voter turnout for a special election, the county board decided last November, to hold the special election using a mail-in ballot.
Mail-in balloting isn’t a new idea in many places. At least two townships in Yellow Medicine County use mail-in balloting but it hasn’t been used widely in these parts. However, there are places where it is the norm. The entire state of Oregon uses mail-in ballots for all elections and our friends out there think it works well. They say that it’s convenient and has the advantage of allowing voting to start a month before election day, which shortens campaigns and changes them for the better.
As residents of the east side of Granite, we received our Chippewa County special election ballots in early January. We filled them out and mailed them back the next day. I know at least one ballot in our household was affirmative to the commissioners idea of making those appointed positions. It’s a good idea and also a good time to try this method of conducting a special election.
Chippewa County Commissioner Jeff Lopez last week said that so far about 28 percent of the ballots have been returned. The county board is hoping for a return in the area of 35 percent, which is much higher than is typical for a special election.
Information on this proposal was sent to each Chippewa County address in January and there continue to be articles in the local newspapers about this mail-in election. The ballots must be received at the county courthouse in Monte on or before next Tuesday, February 13. All Chippewa County residents should take the time to read about this proposal and be sure to vote. It’s easy to do.