Barnes County Commissioner Rodger Berntson said misinformation from State’s Attorney Lee Grossman affected his vote at an Aug. 7 commission meeting, but admits his lone dissenting vote would not have made a difference.
The commission voted 5-0 to appoint a person to fill the shoes of resigning County Auditor Ed McGough. County auditor is an elected position, but the commissioners felt there was too little time to solicit candidates for the November ballot.
In an email from Grossman to the commissioners, the state’s attorney said he mistakenly told the commission that the person appointed to the office would be treated as a “non-elected official” until the end of his term.
“I was incorrect,” Grossman wrote. “The person appointed to the position of auditor will assume all elected official status, even though that person was not technically elected by the public. That means the new appointed auditor is bestowed all the powers of an elected auditor. It also means the commission would not have the ability to remove the new auditor without the governor’s authority.”
Grossman also apologized for any confusion.
Berntson said there was a large amount of authority that will be bestowed upon the individual the commission selects, and the decision should be up to the public.
“It completely changes the whole picture in my mind,” Berntson said. “I was concerned about this when we got Ed’s resignation... What we were told that day, I agreed to go along with the appointment process because I thought we would have control of that person. Low and behold I got this email Aug. 10, three days later, that reversed my opinion on it completely. I know it wasn’t intentional, but it took away the possibility of getting this in the election ballot. If that person is going to have an elected person’s status the day he steps into office, that should be an elected position.”
Commissioner John Froelich said the new information would not have affected his vote.
“I think we need to appoint somebody who is going to do the right kind of job that needs to be done,” Froelich said.