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No opposition heard for proposal to appoint Cass auditor, treasurer, recorder

State Sen. Judy Lee, R-West Fargo, urges the Cass County Commission to make the positions of auditor, treasurer and recorder appointed, rather than elected positions, during a hearing Monday, Aug. 21, 2017 at the Cass County Courthouse in Fargo. Helmut Schmidt / Forum News Service

FARGO — A proposal to make the Cass County auditor, treasurer and recorder offices into appointed posts, and to possibly combine the auditor and treasurer positions, saw no opposition during a public hearing held by the County Commission on Monday, Aug. 21.

Only one citizen spoke, and that person was in favor of the move.

"I think the really scary thing for everybody is that I could run for every one of those offices and I'm not qualified for any of them," said Judy Lee, a Republican state senator from West Fargo.

"I encourage you to look seriously at the possibility of approving the idea of appointing those three positions. And, I think that the county will thrive just fine with that," Lee said.

Appointing the three positions was first suggested in a study a dozen years ago, and draft ordinances were prepared, but the idea was shelved.

However, the approaching retirements of Treasurer Charlotte Sandvik and Recorder Jewel Spies, who will step down when their terms end in 2019, has rekindled the discussion.

Auditor Mike Montplaisir's term also expires at the start of 2019, but he plans to run for another term — or, if the change is made, seek appointment to the job.

Commissioner Arland Rasmussen asked Lee whether she thought appointing the positions would take power from voters they have used well.

"I struggle with this, because you know the citizens are smart enough to elect me, but they're not smart enough to elect an auditor, or a recorder, or whatever? When somebody says that to me, what's my comeback?" Rasmussen asked.

Lee said government has gotten more complex, and some positions require specialized skills.

"I think that I don't want to have a state medical director or a county health officer who is not a physician. I think there are certain positions that require certain credentials, education and background," Lee said. "A county auditor needs a certain background of financial experience. There is not a unique skill (required) of elected officials in a specific manner."

Commission Chairman Chad Peterson said he hasn't received a phone call, email or text on the issue from constituents.

Peterson agreed with Lee that the three posts require special skill sets.

"There's a technical aspect to these positions now. They've gotten more complex with time. I wouldn't dream to elect our county engineer" or the director of social services, Peterson said. "We look at the (Fargo) Park District, we look at the City of Fargo, we look at the City of West Fargo, all their budgets are substantive, all their budgets actually are quite similar to ours, and no one balks for one second that their budgets are controlled by people who are not elected, other than by the commissions who select the people" in those positions.

An ordinance must be drafted and first and second hearings must be held. The commission must then vote before the ordinance could go into effect, Peterson said.

The next hearing could be as soon as the commission's Sept. 5 meeting, Peterson said, though that will depend on how long it takes to draft the ordinance.

The auditor acts as the chief financial officer for the county, administers elections and property taxes, and is executive secretary for the county commission.

The recorder records all documents affecting title to real property, and records and files power of attorneys, wills, corner monument records and burial permits.

The treasurer receives, manages and disburses public funds. That person also collects, manages and distributes property taxes levied by various units of local government. The treasurer also administers marriage licenses and performs wedding ceremonies.

Helmut Schmidt

Helmut Schmidt was born in Germany, but grew up in the Twin Cities area, graduating from Park High School of Cottage Grove. After serving a tour in the U.S. Army, he attended the University of St. Thomas in St Paul, Minn., graduating in 1984 with a degree in journalism. He then worked at the Albert Lea (Minn.) Tribune and served as managing editor there for three years. He joined The Forum in October 1989, working as a copy editor until 2000. Since then, he has worked as a reporter on several beats, including K-12 education, Fargo city government, criminal justice, and military affairs. He is currently one of The Forum's business reporters.

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