After a season of unsightly publicity, even Linn County Auditor Joel Miller was surprised by his comfortable re-election.
“It’s way more than I could have ever expected,” Miller said minutes after final returns showed him with a 25-percent margin over Republican challenger Garth Fagerbakke, 69,362 to 41,531.
“I could’ve had a better outcome, but I feel good about it,” said Fagerbakke. “We knew from the outset we were going to have an uphill road. I’m disappointed in the outcome, but it looks like it did go along party lines.”
Miller’s win caps a contentious first full term that included a lawsuit against county supervisors and an internal ethics investigation. Both made for testy relationships with the supervisors.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” said Miller, 57, of Robins. “I didn’t know what the board was doing to campaign against me. They certainly haven’t aided my campaign any.”
A judge has yet to rule on Miller’s lawsuit against the county supervisors, filed in February 2010 after they blocked his hiring a fourth deputy auditor to conduct internal audits of accounts maintained by other departments.
The supervisors countersued, arguing state law gives them sole authority to determine the number of deputies serving under the auditor and other elected officials. The two suits were combined into one, heard in late May.
“I think this was a wake-up call, maybe, for them,” Miller said of his strong margin. “For me, we should probably try to look at trying to do things a little differently, but be respectful, courteous and professional and try to make some things happen. But I’m going to keep my role as a watchdog.”
Fagerbakke said Miller’s clashes with the county board – which has a 3-2 Democratic edge – weren’t enough to overcome a good night for Democrats up and down the ticket.
“Certainly there was plenty of publicity out there, but I think the voters just voted along party lines,” said Fagerbakke. “The results compared pretty close to the presidential results in Linn County, and I think that kind of was the difference.”
Fagerbakke, 52, of Marion, had been Miller’s facilities manager before supervisors tapped him to manage the county’s flood recovery construction projects.
If Judge Paul Miller’s ruling finds for the supervisors “I would probably rethink continuing in this job,” Miller said last month.
Miller was also the indirect subject this year of an internal investigation into his hiring of a friend to manage a software installation in his office. Two county employees raised questions about Joe Clarahan’s job performance, prompting an investigation by county Finance Director Steve Tucker, who’s also the county’s compliance officer.
Tucker criticized Clarahan’s work and his report was forwarded to County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden. In mid-October, Vander Sanden reported he found no evidence to support criminal charges, although he said the arrangement “ripped off” county taxpayers.