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Local Commentary

After serious deliberation, I feel that a response is necessary to the two comments made by Commissioner Staples and Commissioner Gausman reported on the Morris Sun website regarding my job performance.

First I would like to make it clear that the A/T (Auditor-Treasurer's) Office is currently processing passports in this county. I do not do process passports personally, since I am not certified to do so; however, the other four members of my staff do. Because of the reduction in my staff, I choose not to do passports since I am mandated by law to do the other duties we perform. By Minnesota law I can choose not to do passports in my office since it is not a mandated service. As an elected official I am responsible to see that the mandated services are provided. If my staff/budget is reduced any further or additional duties are mandated, I will likely be forced to drop passport services in the A/T Office.

This brings me to the second subject, the compilation of financial statements in my office for the OSA (Office of the State Auditor). I contacted former long time A/T, Dick Bluth, and he verified that these financial statements have not been completely produced by the A/T Office since GASB [Governmental Accounting Standards Board] standards were introduced many years ago. In most small counties the OSA prepares these statements for the county due to lack of county staff and/or training. For many months I have recommended to the Board that upon a retirement from my office (which occurred in June of 2011) that we should reshuffle some of the retired persons duties to other people on my staff including myself and then replace that position with someone who had training and experience in producing government financial statements. My regional state auditor has stated that this may become a future requirement for all counties and I also believe this would save the county significant money in auditing fees charged by the OSA without significantly increasing what was the 2010 budget for my office when I had a total of six people on staff including myself. Instead these two commissioners suggested we use the county highway accountant to do these additional duties of producing these statements and also take another staff member from my office to help out the highway department. It should be pretty clear that this would reduce the staff I had by 40 percent and yet not reduce any of the duties my office is mandated to perform by state statute, so I refused that option. I did suggest that I might be willing to accept the highway accountant as a member of my staff since that would allow me control over what my office produces for the OSA. Without that stipulation, I was not interest- ed since I would still be responsible for the results but not have control over who was producing these statements. The Board then tabled the item and has not spoken to me about it since then.

In regards to having me do the financials personally, I suggested that since I would be turning 60 shortly that I thought it would be money better spent training/obtaining a younger person to do these duties who would hopefully be around much longer than I might. In either case, returning to a total staff of six would be necessary since producing these statements requires significant time. I also spoke to Pope County A/T and she also recently had a person leave and said she needs to get back to full staff of six before the election. The Wilkin County Auditor also informed me that between his staff and the Treasurer staff that they have seven people in their offices. It would appear that a minimum of six would be a normal staff size for our sized county judging by other similar counties.

Ask these two commissioners why they are unwilling to provide the staff numbers needed to perform the duties in the A/T Office which they indicate they want to see done. Minnesota Statute states that they are to provide me with the necessary funds/budget to do so. If they do not, then my only recourse is to take legal action which some of you may recollect that cur- rent Commissioner Sayre did a number of years ago when he was county Sheriff. I would prefer not to do that but they may force my hand to do so, just as he was.

I also recently received a survey covering the 2005 thru 2009 period that shows the cost of accounting services that the OSA or private firms provide for the services the above two commissioners speak of. Stevens County (population 9,874) charges for this period were $258,279, Swift County (pop. 11,956) $258,900, Lac Qui Parle County (pop. 7,414) $243,091, Cook County (pop. 5,437) $310,965, Rock County (pop. 9,943) $234,714 and Watonwan County (pop. 11,750) $318,740. Many local counties did not report there costs so I provided numbers for other counties that have similar sized populations and situations. Obviously, these audits are quite expensive but the charges for Stevens County are very close to other similar sized counties that replied to the survey.

If the public has any further questions they may contact me at the A/T Office. I do believe the facts I have presented speak for themselves in regards to the comments made by Commissioners Staples and Gausman that I am not performing my job properly. I suggest they research the facts before they make unfounded allegations. My staff and I are providing the same services of the same quality as other similar sized counties with a smaller budget despite what they say.

Neil Wiese

Stevens County Auditor/Treasurer