Per diem pay at the county level is being looked into by the state auditor.
Crow Wing County Auditor-Treasure Laureen Borden Tuesday reiterated the rules about claiming per diem pay.
In 2012, Crow Wing County commissioners received $23,140 in per diem payment and travel reimbursement in addition to their base pay.
Commissioners receive a base salary of $28,051 and may claim a $50 per diem, or pay, for meeting attendance, along with travel expenses. Thiede received $5,250 in per diem payments and $4,373 in travel expenses. Tuesday Thiede noted he is perennially at the top in part because he lives the farthest from the courthouse.
Thiede said he was frustrated to no end that if he doesn’t think of giving a report and then is challenged for that.
“I’m not trying to hide anything,” Thiede said, adding he just doesn’t necessarily think about it.
The county will pay per diem for any committee a commissioner is appointed to attend. For others they attend on their own volition, they are required to provide a report to the rest of the board.
In March 2010, the state auditor issued a report after receiving complaints about the county’s per diem payments and suggested the county reconsider its per diem policy for board members. In the past, the county adopted a resolution to say each commissioner was appointed as a committee of one in their own district for county business.
As committees of one, commissioners could respond to governments, cities or townships, that requested their presence at a meeting, for example, as a board member.
The state reported, based on its review, it didn’t appear the county maintained sufficient documentation to establish that all per diem payments were for work on committees under the direction of the board or for individual services as commissioners that were required by law. Absent this additional documentation, the per diem payments are questionable, the state reported.
The state auditor’s office suggested the county no longer designate individual board members as standing committees of one and provide more clear documentation including board approval of meeting attendance and confirm a report was received on the meeting.
The county board has since complied with the verbal reports, but Thiede has often questioned the need for the exercise. He said while erring on the side of transparency his integrity ought not be in question if he slips up and misses one.
Commissioner Paul Koering suggested a way to eliminate the issue would be to look at the wage for the county board and do away with per diem payments. Thiede said he would vehemently oppose that plan. Thiede said he’s been one of the board members with the highest per diem pay but thinks it is a way to encourage participation.
The board adopts a wage for commissioners and elected department heads traditionally at its last meeting of the year. Administrator Tim Houle said staff would be glad to do an analysis.
Commissioner Rosemary Franzen said the reports to the board are important as a way for the other members to know what is going on and she didn’t think there was a problem in Crow Wing County.