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Working without an auditor/treasurer

Wadena County Attorney Kyra Ladd pondered one of the many legal questions she was asked at the Sept. 19 commissioners meeting. The absence of an auditor/treasurer to sign certain documents made problems for Ladd and the board. Brian Hansel/Pioneer Journal

The current absence of a county auditor/treasurer and deputy auditor/treasurer were keenly felt at Tuesday's meeting of the Wadena County Board.

County Attorney Kyra Ladd found herself on the spot as the absence of auditor/treasurer Judy Taves created questions about who can be authorized to take over some of her work.

At one point in the meeting, Ladd asked the assembled group "has anyone seen the auditor/treasurer?"

While the question elicited some chuckles in the room it was not without merit. Taves, an elected county official with statutory duties (duties which must be carried out by that person by state law), had not been seen at the courthouse since Sept. 12. At a board meeting that day, the board gave unanimous approval to Teamsters Local 320's recommendation that Labor Attorney Dyan Ebert oversee an independent investigation of allegations that Taves had created "a hostile work environment."

According to Human Resources Director Curt Kreklau, Taves is only required to be present at the courthouse for three jobs - certifying elections, certifying levies and acting as clerk for the county board. One of the motions approved at the Sept. 12 meeting was that Taves be relocated so as not to be co-located with employees of the auditor/treasurer office.

In the absence of the county auditor/treasurer, Ladd pointed out the deputy auditor/treasurer would normally sign documents. The hitch is that Wadena County does not presently have one. Curt Bryniarski took a different job in Todd County this summer, and while the job has been advertised it has not yet been filled.

Working from advice provided by Ladd, the board authorized the county attorney to join Board Chairman Dave Hillukka in signing a request by the City of Wadena for a Quit Claim deed in order to facilitate work on their new Power and Light building.

The question of authorization came up again later in the meeting when County Engineer Ryan Odden, acting on an interim basis as supervisor of the auditor/treasurer office, asked for board direction in the payment of bills.

Ladd was plainly uneasy with providing the board with an impromptu legal opinion, but after some discussion with board members, she suggested an interim approach.

"In the event the auditor is not available for whatever reason, I think the board should at least authorize two signatures from the county board to take care of paying the county's bills. I don't think it is in anybody's best interests to take on these late fees," Ladd said.

The county attorney added the board has complete authorization over county funds and a duty to see the bills are paid.

A motion was approved to use the authorized electronic signatures of Hillukka and Board Vice Chairman Sheldon Monson in paying the bills.

Budget matters

The board reviewed the 2018 preliminary budget but decided to table action on it until the Sept. 26 meeting. As of the Sept. 21 meeting, the preliminary budget called for an increase of 2.92 percent over the 2017 budget of $8,599,165. The levy difference was $41,655.

The budget must be submitted to the state by the end of September.

Odden presented the board with a projected timeline for remodeling work in the main courthouse. Odden's plan called for completing Phase 1.0 - moving the assessor's office to the old corrections area in the lower level - by Nov. 1. Five other phases were outlined with an overall completion date of April 15. Odden did not present estimated cost projections.

Board Member Bill Stearns made a motion the board approve the courthouse remodel "in principle" and the motion carried.

The board also approved a Human Service peer grant of $100,000 from the state legislature to be used in planning a Peer Respite Center. Jode Freyholtz-London of Wellness in the Woods joined Mike Willie and Tanya Leskey of Wadena County Human Services in providing the board with insights the mental health crises a Peer Respite Center can help prevent.

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