consultants are sandburs

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Dan Burns at MPP writes of the State Auditor suit going to trial.

This link. It reports, and begins a link trail that interested readers might wish to follow. Readers are urged to do so.

Seemingly absent, links to the Minnesota Constitution itself, which is online here. It is in hypertext form, easily searched by keywords such as "Auditor" and "county" or "counties."

Without any contention of exhaustive study, a quick search of the document defines the auditor as an independent statewide elected office separate from the governor and appointed administrative functionaries; yet duties and powers appear to not be constitutionally defined. The office might do many things, or nothing, as far as specifications appear to exist in the Minnesota Constitution. That presents interesting grounds for litigation over duties and powers. If not defined legislatively, would the Auditor have self-defining powers, and might that not result is a silly result or two from some overreaching elected state auditor? Historical precedent obviously has importance.

Of interest, in the link trail, a PiPress item stating in part:

“I believe the Minnesota Legislature unwisely and improperly encroached upon the state auditor’s constitutional responsibilities to audit local governments, and I support the state auditor’s lawful efforts to regain that authority,” said Dayton, a former state auditor himself, in a statement.

Becker County Administrator Jack Ingstad said he’s “baffled” by the lawsuit.

“We actually think we get a better audit from a CPA firm, and it’s considerably cost-effective for us, a lot cheaper,” Ingstad said.

A review by the Office of the Legislative Auditor — a different agency than the state auditor — released Wednesday found that some counties save money by using private firms but couldn’t say whether those savings were justified. The review said the new law is an opportunity for Otto’s office to compare itself with external auditors and improve.

Ramsey County communications director John Siqveland said the county government is “surprised and disappointed” to be sued — because Ramsey County, unlike Becker County, is happy with the state auditor’s audits.

But Ramsey County wouldn’t sign a three-year contract Otto’s office distributed, citing worries that other counties opting for private audits would drive up their costs. According to the lawsuit, Ramsey County officials told Otto’s office they prefer “a year-by-year approach.”

That same review rejected Otto’s claim that it’s unconstitutional for the Legislature to change the auditor’s duties.

“The Legislature has always defined the duties and authority of the state auditor,” the OLA report found. “The Minnesota Constitution created the office of auditor in 1857, but the authors of the constitution left it for the Legislature to assign duties and authority to the auditor.”

Otto disagreed, saying that legal judgment was “inaccurate and incomplete” and outside of OLA’s purview. She said she believes she has a duty to audit county governments.

The fact that the State Auditor and Ramsey County are in contract negotiation appears to suggest that the Auditor has the power to enter into contracts with governmental subdivisions of the state, but aside from that, things are unclear.

"County" appears frequently in the Minnesota Constitution, but the question of how integrity of county fiscal affairs is to be assured is missing from the Minnesota Constitution, per cursory word search.

It is both interesting and frustrating to ask where precisely in statutory law or judicial precedent Auditor power is spelled out, if indeed not specified constitutionally. The question is inherently interesting, and the frustration is PiPress posted the Otto complaint in hateful Scribed format, not as an orderly pdf document.

Living with Scribed, very briefly by necessity, it appears the auditor's argument is that inherently since territorial times and before statehood, there were counties and the auditor audited them; i.e., that the power is inherent to the office once the office has been constitutionally defined as elective by statewide ballot and not appointive.

Without citing cases but linking to them online, the auditor relies on this case as to inherent power and historical precedent, and there the legislative attempt was to transfer statutory elective office powers to an appointed executive officer; not privatization as the Bakk-Daudt mischief did. Also the question of single issue legislation being a constitutional requirement has been raised; see, e.g., this online case, which reviews judicial precedent on single issue legislation as ad hoc and contorted. The two cases together show the earlier case duly made a decision rather than ducking one and doing the single issue shuffle.

I am informed and believe that because of the first linked case, the constitutional office of "treasurer" was eliminated by amendment of the Minnesota Constitution. I did not reside here back then. Apart from that, the auditor's present complaint as linked to above, (in hateful Scribed format), is 29 pages long and not all of it was studied. If the opening "executive summary" pages omitted something later of consequence, so be it. What was reviewed did not focus on the political dimension of the auditor's plight, namely that Tom Bakk is a menace and an a****le. (Complete that word as you choose. It encompasses quite a bit more than simply being an "Iron Ranger.") Dimensions such as the politics at play are known by the judges contemporaneous to their authoring opinions, but in time can be lost so that the earlier case of legislature -vs- state treasurer stands now apart from the politics of its time.

The office of auditor might be an anachronism, with greater efficiency attaching to private sector CPA auditing, but absent amendment of the Minnesota Constitution, that may be irrelevant to whether the legislature overstepped its powers (Bakk and Daudt, again, the overstep two-step).

The auditor's complaint does, at paragraph 33 et seq., discuss politics of the situation. However, with use of the hateful Scribed format, word search for "Bakk" or for "Daudt" is not feasible (at least under privacy and security settings of my browser which I have to weaken to show any Facebook/Scribed stuff at all).

Without naming names, something of the politics is missing.

The Fredrikson ad Byron firm represents the Auditor.

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