Miller appealing dispute with Linn supervisors; board not paying legal costs

Auditor may still be able to divert money from his departmental budget to pay legal costs

Rick Smith
Published: February 13 2013 | 5:20 pm - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 11:26 am in
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Linn County Auditor Joel Miller and the Linn County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday made it official: Miller is taking his dispute with the board to the Iowa Court of Appeals and the supervisors, on a 5-0 vote, said they aren’t paying for it.

In November, the supervisors prevailed against Miller in Linn County District Court in a legal action initiated by Miller to sort out whether a county auditor can audit county financial transactions or not.

The Board of Supervisors says it is responsible for financial reporting and auditing and doesn’t need Miller, who is elected -- as are the supervisors -- to conduct audits.

In the latest chapter in the ongoing dispute, Miller told the supervisors on Wednesday that he finds himself in a worse position now than before he took the legal action. He said he feels the supervisors will use the District Court ruling to prevent him from asking basic questions and conducting reviews of the county’s receipts that pass through his office. Hence, he said he needs to seek the help of the Iowa Court of Appeals to help clarify the dispute.

The supervisors were unbending in agreement that the District Court ruling was clear and that they were not going to pay additional money for Miller’s legal fees. To date, the county has paid about $16,000 in the case for an outside attorney, which has represented Miller while the Linn County Attorney represents the supervisors.

"We’ve spent enough on this," Supervisor Lu Barron said.

"It’s not the end for you," Supervisor Brent Oleson told Miller. "But it’s the end for us."

Assistant Linn County Attorney Gary Jarvis told the board and Miller that he believed that Miller could divert money in his supervisor-approved budget to pay for his legal fees.

Miller said he will submit claims for his future legal fees to the supervisors.

At the heart of the dispute is Miller’s belief that he is an elected "auditor" and so should be able to audit county spending.

Supervisors Linda Langston and Ben Rogers said Miller’s role is really more limited to commissioner of elections and clerk to the Board of Supervisors.

At Wednesday’s supervisors’ meeting, Miller held up a story in Wednesday’s Gazette about a state audit that alleged inappropriate spending by the superintendent of the power plant in Coggon. Linn County employs more people than live in Coggon, said Miller, implying that an extra set of eyes on the county’s financial dealings might not hurt.

Miller said he had sought a compromise with the supervisors that would allow him to conduct certain financial reviews, but the supervisors said the District Court ruling spelled out what he can and can't do.

Both Miller and the supervisors seem to agree that county auditors in Iowa's smaller counties include in their duties some of what Miller has said he wants to do.

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