Linn County Auditor Joel Miller isn’t ruling out an appeal of a judge’s ruling today that county supervisors have sole authority to audit county finances.
“The voters re-elected me by the biggest popular vote of anyone on the ballot in a contested race,” Miller said this afternoon. “The voters want the county auditor to be vigilant with the tax dollars.”
But there’s a catch, Miller said: the supervisors would have to approve any appeal and the funding for an attorney to argue it.
“I would guess they would want no part of continuing it,” he said. Miller said he hasn’t decided whether he’ll request an appeal himself.
“If the taxpayers want me to pursue this, I would ask they contact the county supervisors.”
Judge Paul Miller ruled the county auditor “does not have explicit authority or implicit authority to conduct audits of other county departments, absent a request by the board of supervisors.”
“It was a complete and utter rejection of every point that was raised by Auditor Miller,” said Supervisor Brent Oleson, R-Marion. “We are very happy, and we hope that now after years of litigation and hundreds of thousands of dollars diverted to this issue Auditor Miller will be able to work with us.”
Joel Miller, who was sworn in for a second full term this morning, said the judge “missed some key arguments that were made” but declined to specify them.
“I’ll save those for later,” he said. “I don’t want to re-hash the ruling.”
Joel Miller, who said during his re-election campaign that “I would probably rethink continuing in this job” if the ruling was against his case, said he plans to finish out his new term.
“I don’t see myself stepping away after the resounding victory I was just handed by the electorate,” he said.
Joel Miller filed suit in February 2010 after supervisors blocked his appointment of a deputy auditor whose duties would have included closer oversight, including audits, of accounts maintained by other county departments. Supervisors argued the annual audit conducted by an accounting firm is sufficient oversight of the county’s accounts.
Paul Miller heard the case over two days in late May. The county paid Cedar Rapids attorney Peter Riley $6,482 to represent Joel Miller in the case, and another $10,325 to Robert O’Shea to advise him on other legal issues while the case awaited trial.
“It’s nice to finally have a ruling and a conclusion on an issue that’s been going on for two years,” said Supervisor Ben Rogers, D-Cedar Rapids. “As far as the board is concerned we’re moving on, and we consider this issue settled by a judge.”
“I certainly hope we can put this behind us and quit wasting the taxpayers’ money with frivolous lawsuits,” said Supervisor Lu Barron, D-Cedar Rapids. “I hope that this clarifies things so that we can move forward.”
“The judge made abundantly clear in his ruling it really is the supervisors who have the ability to take care of the finances,” said Supervisor Linda Langston, D-Cedar Rapids. “(Joel Miller) has a job. It’s very clearly spelled out in the code and it’s not an insignificant job.”
The ruling ends a nearly three-year power struggle between Joel Miller and supervisors. In December 2009, Joel Miller fired Sue Wold, a longtime deputy auditor, to name Karen Heiderscheit to her post. Joel Miller wanted Heiderscheit, then a payroll technician, to conduct independent audits maintained by other departments.
Supervisors, who weren’t consulted in either Wold’s firing or Heiderscheit’s appointment, reduced the deputy auditor’s positions from four to three. They also refused to authorize Joel Miller’s subsequent attempt to hire Heiderscheit as a temporary assistant, which could jeopardize her pay and benefits as a full-time county employee.
The supervisors’ vote to reduce the number of deputy auditors “was clearly a legislative decision vested in the Board by the legislature” and was neither arbitrary nor illegal, Paul Miller wrote in his decision.
The judge cited a 1990 decision by the state attorney general in a Jasper County case that “the county auditor is but a ministerial officer” in managing the county treasury.