Linn County Attorney says auditor Miller's friend won't be charged

But report highly critical of Miller's hiring, management of Clarahan

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April 1, 2014 | 2:00 am

UPDATE: Fraud charges won't be filed against a friend of Linn County Auditor Joel Miller hired by Miller to manage a software program, County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden said Monday morning.

"My final conclusion is that there is insufficient evidence" to support charges against Joe Clarahan, Vander Sanden told county supervisors at Monday morning's work session. But Vander Sanden's four-page report to the supervisors is highly critical of Miller's hiring and management of Clarahan.

"I believe the taxpayers of Linn County have been ripped off," Vander Sanden said.

"(Vander Sanden) did exactly what I figured he would do," said Miller, who didn't attend Monday morning's meeting. "He would try to rake me over the coals as much as he could without outright accusing me of anything. He makes a lot of statements under the guise of being a reasonable person."

Miller said the initial allegations and subsequent investigations were timed to damage his bid for re-election against Republican challenger Garth Fagerbakke.

"They’ve managed to drag this issue from before the primary to just before the general (election)," Miller said. "Hopefully this can end at this point."

Whatever its effect on the election, Miller's standing with county supervisors is damaged.

"I am just livid that this needed to be done," said Supervisor Lu Barron, D-Cedar Rapids, after Vander Sanden delivered his report. "I will be looking at the auditor's budget really closely this year."

"What an incredible waste of time and money," said Supervisor Linda Langston, D-Cedar Rapids. "My plea is for something to change."

"All the processes were broken here," said board Chairman Brent Oleson, R-Marion. He said acquaintances ask him about a county job, he sends them to the human resources office and the usual hiring process.

Miller's hiring of Clarahan "raises the specter of blatant cronyism by steering a professional employment position to a close friend," Vander Sanden said in his report.

Clarahan, of Marion, worked for the auditor from September 2011 to March 19 through the temporary agency Kelly Services to install iMaint, a facilities maintenance software package Miller purchased. The county paid Kelly $37,342 for his work. Clarahan received about $27,000.

Miller said hiring through Kelly is usual procedure when a job description doesn't have a union classification. More than 20 temporary election workers were hired through Kelly this fall, he said.

"There is a legitimate question whether Joe Clarahan obtained any discernible results," Vander Sanden wrote in his report. He said Miller didn't have a valid iMaint password at project's end, and a presentation by Clarahan to explain the system was aborted after he was unable to launch the presentation.

But, Vander Sanden wrote, "it would be impossible to prove whether a theft was committed."

Miller said the county's information technology office had the iMaint password, and Clarahan's presentation was moved due to faulty equipment in the first meeting room.

The initial ethics investigation by Finance Director Steve Tucker, also the county's compliance director, "was a full and fair investigation," Vander Sanden said. Vander Sanden received Tucker's report Sept. 17.

Vander Sanden said supervisors have the legal standing to hold Miller to county procedures for hiring and purchasing.

"You are the legal authority for county government," he said. "There ought to be some kind of a remedy, some kind of a sanction."

But Miller, who's also an elected official, has also clashed with supervisors over their authority over his office. He filed suit against the supervisors in February 2010 over their failure to authorize a deputy auditor’s promotion to review independent accounts maintained by county department heads. The supervisors filed a countersuit, and both were combined into a single case heard in late May.

A judge's ruling on has yet to rule on the competing claims by Miller and county supervisors over his legal authority.

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