By The Gazette Editorial Board
A report out this week on Linn County Auditor Joel Miller’s hiring of a close friend to install management software raises hard questions about his stewardship of taxpayer dollars.
The report, prepared by county finance director and compliance officer Steve Tucker, concludes that the county received “virtually nothing” for the $37,432 paid to Joe Clarahan, a friend of Miller’s hired through a temp agency. In a summary provided to the Board of Supervisors, Tucker contends that Clarahan’s hiring circumvented county processes and that his work resulted in “no discernible results or accomplishments.” Tucker questions why Clarahan was hired and whether he billed the county for more hours than he actually worked. The report also suggests that Miller didn’t properly supervise Clarahan, whom Tucker argues failed to demonstrate the proper skills to do the job.
These are very serious findings, although Tucker did not conclude whether Clarahan’s conduct amounted to fraud. The Board of Supervisors has forwarded the report to County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden.
We’re troubled that Miller, who has fought admirably to improve the management of county finances, would preside over this level of mismanagement. The auditor contends that the investigation is a politically motivated “sham.”
We concede that it’s tough to ignore the political dimensions. Miller is seeking re-election in November after a term in office that’s been marked by sharp clashes between the auditor and other county officials. Miller filed legal action against the county seeking the authority to hire a deputy after being rebuked by the Board of Supervisors. He’s vigorously challenged the practice of some departments that keep off-budget accounts. Last month, he publicly bickered with Vander Sanden over the county attorney’s decision to not prosecute people who illegally cast double ballots.
So it’s not far-fetched to presume that politics is playing a role. But that doesn’t excuse what appears to be serious lapses in supervision and management. Most important now, voters need to know whether these lapses made way for criminality.
Vander Sanden says he can’t commit to a timeline on his investigation into the matter. But we believe Linn County voters need an answer before Election Day. As significant as the problems detailed in the report are, criminal fraud would be far more serious. It will be much harder for voters to render their verdict without the county attorney’s report.
Early voting starts Thursday. We don’t expect Vander Sanden to beat that deadline. We understand his desire to be cautious and thorough. But with the election looming, and a cloud of uncertainty hanging over the auditor’s race, this is no ordinary investigation. Time is of the essence.
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