So our auditor can’t audit. Too bad, but not shocking.
On Thanksgiving eve came news that a District Court judge rejected a lawsuit filed by Linn County Auditor Joel Miller. Back in 2010, the Board of Supervisors rebuked the auditor’s attempt to hire an assistant to check various accounts held by county departments. So Miller sued, arguing that his office should have that auditing authority. The court flatly disagreed.
It’s the courts’ job to handle power struggles between our elected officials. There’s been some carping and complaining about the cost of this so-called “frivolous” lawsuit, mostly by its targets, but it was an important dispute well worth settling.
I’ve also read that the ruling was a “complete and utter rejection” of Miller’s arguments. From a legal standpoint, that’s entirely true. But if you’re looking for a verdict on Miller’s broader effort to change the way Linn County does business, to improve its accountability to taxpayers, I think Election Day was also pretty significant. Miller couldn’t convince a judge, but 69,883 county voters kept him on the job, even after his critics threw some pretty hard punches.
The Democratic auditor beat Republican Garth Fagerbakke, who basically ran promising to get along much better with his fellow county officials. Miller, he contended, was divisive, disruptive and abrasive. Fagerbakke got what looked like a potentially big assist from a months-long election year investigation into Miller’s hiring of a friend to work on a software system. That saga also yielded the most dramatic copying of a laptop computer hard drive in radio history.
But Miller won 63-37 anyway. Sure, it was a good day for Democrats, especially with their early voting push. But Miller also won 58-42 among those who voted on Election Day. In the race between play nice and keep digging, the shovels appear to have it.
And the court didn’t rule that the auditor has to stop advocating, complaining, publicly cajoling, etc. It would be nice if he was more Dale Carnegie and less Gen. Sherman. Maybe that will happen, now that the auditor and his critics clearly are stuck with each other for the duration.
But whatever issues he raises, we now know, thanks to the court, that it is the responsibility of the Board of Supervisors to address them. They can block him, criticize him or even bury some hatchets and work with him. I’m optimistic that cooperation is possible. But whatever the supervisors do, 69,883 voters will be watching.
So our auditor can’t audit. And he can’t be ignored.