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Who should be the next Winona County Auditor/Treasurer (11/18/2012)
By Sarah Squires

Whether post will remain elected is the question

Winona County Auditor/Treasurer Sue Rivers has announced she will retire on November 30, 2012, and the Winona County Board must appoint a replacement to serve in this post until the elected term expires in January, 2015.

The board discussed its options for finding a replacement earlier this month, and were provided with a legal memorandum from County Attorney Karin Sonneman as guidance for how to proceed. Sonneman said the board, by law, must appoint a replacement and has three options: appoint a staff member, appoint Winona County Recorder Bob Bambenek to the position, or appoint a member of the public.

In the past, the board has discussed making the position an appointed post, eliminating the election process that allows the public to choose the county official who oversees elections, calculates and collects property taxes, and is the custodian of all county funds and cash assets. Changing the position from an elected position to an appointed one would require, under current state law, that voters approve the change through a referendum. When the board discussed this possibility several years ago, it was recommended that the board seek special legislation that would allow the change without voter approval.

When the board discussed the retirement earlier this month, however, several members made it clear that appointing a person to fill the rest of Rivers’ term would not mean that the position would automatically become an appointed one.

Changing the Auditor/Treasurer post to an appointed position was discussed during last week’s meeting, however. Commissioner Jim Pomeroy said he wanted to make sure that everyone understood the reasoning behind making that type of position appointed. He said the sheriff and county attorney posts need to be elected because those officials must maintain independent judgement. He said he has heard from people who want maintain elections for other, more technical positions, such as the Auditor/Treasurer, and wanted to know why.

Commissioner Marcia Ward said citizens don’t want the power of voters to be diminished, and that citizens want elected officials to remain accountable through the election process. “There’s a passion for the people to keep [those seats] elected, and I want to honor that passion,” she said.

Pomeroy said that one of the things that confuses him about that sentiment is that when a position is appointed, county leaders can appoint a person based on qualifications and standards. That doesn’t happen, he said, when voters decide.

“Just like us,” said Ward, of elected officials.

The board is expected to declare the vacancy of the Auditor/Treasurer seat in the coming weeks, and members said they are anxious to hear who is interested in the position. 

 

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