Crow Wing County commissioners voted 3-1 to table a reorganization plan calling for elimination of two elected county officials.
The vote came after Rep. John Ward, DFL-Baxter, and Rep.-elect Joe Radinovich, DFL-Crosby, both said the county should take more time in considering the issue. The county board needs the backing of a state legislator to pursue the special legislation needed for the change.
Administrator Tim Houle proposed a county government reorganization plan eliminating the elected positions of auditor-treasurer and county recorder. Instead, Houle suggested, the county could appoint staff members to do the work.
A resolution before the county board Monday would have asked Sen. Carrie Ruud, R- Breezy Point, Ward or Radinovich forward a bill in the Senate and House supporting the special legislation.
The three state legislators met with Houle and were given information on the reorganization plan. A super majority, 80 percent, of the county board is needed to adopt the resolution. A reverse referendum gives the people a chance to change the measure. If 10 percent of the registered voters of the county sign a petition, the question would go to regular or special election. Houle’s proposal would move the duties of both offices into other departments.
Ward said he’s heard the anticipated savings from such a move range from $9,000 to more than $100,000 leaving him wondering which is the accurate number. While there is a need to look at shared responsibilities, Ward said it also needs to be done in a wise way and he likes the checks and balances the current system allows. The proposed change, Ward said, needs to be looked at more closely and more delicately.
The feedback from constituents to date has a majority leaning toward elected rather than appointed for a number of reasons, Ward said, looking at email he’s received on the subject. And with a new board member arriving in January, Ward said he thought it would be wise to allow the new board to discuss the issue at length. Other options may include changing legislation to allow the county to make the change without going through the state process.
“Is that a possibility?” Ward asked. “Those are some questions I have.”
Commissioner Paul Thiede said the idea has been advanced relatively quickly. Thiede said he thought it was fair to ask if they would carry the legislation if the board advanced the resolution. If they didn’t want to touch it the subject would be moot, Thiede said. If the legislators introduced it, the board still wouldn’t have to end up voting in favor, Thiede said. He said keeping the proposal going is a way to elevate interest in the discussion. Radinovich said he suspects he would be upset if he carried special legislation forward and the board wasn’t going to vote on it.
“I think the county board needs more time. I think the county constituents need more time. I think we at the state level need more time,” Ward said.
Radinovich said he was in similar thinking as Ward.
“I would like more time to talk to the officers principally affected by this proposed legislation. I haven’t had the opportunity to do that yet ... At this point I would say for me personally I don’t particularly have strong feelings either way. I’d like to hear a complete argument,” Radinovich said, adding he hasn’t received a lot of comments from future constituents so far. “I’m in a similar position right now where I’d like to take a wait and see approach.”
Ward asked if the board considered putting the proposition up to the voters. Thiede said reorganization in Land Services and Community Services has gone on without going to voters and the board will stand for election based on the success or failure of those ventures.
“This needs to be fully vetted and in my opinion it hasn’t been,” Ward said. “Fully vetted to me means everybody is engaged. Everybody that is impacted is participating and I don’t know that that is happening.”
Ward said in talking to staff and constituents, some people in the departments have been involved while others haven’t been, especially the folks with knowledge critical to the proposition. Ward said talking to staff in the recorder’s office but not the recorder about it is problematic to him. Houle said he met with Laureen Borden, auditor-treasurer, and Kathy Ludenia, recorder, individually, with supervisors and hosted three information sessions at lunch, which was also recorded in case people were missing those days.
Commissioner Rosemary Franzen moved to table the reorganization. Commissioner Phil Trusty seconded. Thiede opposed and Chairman Doug Houge was in favor of tabling the motion until a full board was present.
Radinovich asked Crow Wing County officials what they thought of ending public reporting requirements such as forgoing publication of tax forfeiture.
Houle also asked if the legislators would consider backing a change making an email address stored in the county’s tax system to be considered private data and not released to the public as physical addresses are. Houle said with case of malware and spyware, there can be concern in having the email information public as it can reach into a home and damage property. The county is currently required to send information electronically if requested to do so and Houle said they see the wisdom of encouraging that for taxpayer mailings because it is faster and less expensive. Houle said it costs $25,000 to mail things to all taxpayers in the county. Radinovich said he’d likely be in favor of that. Ward said it’s been controversial at the state level but he’s more in favor of moving ahead with that proposal.
Tilting at windmills can be good exercise on occasion, Thiede said.