Iowa Supreme Court ends court dispute between Linn supervisors, auditor

But both sides continue to disagree on scope of authority

Rick Smith
Published: January 28 2014 | 6:51 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 2:48 am in

The Iowa Supreme Court has declined to have the entire court review a November decision by a three-judge panel of the court that sided with the Linn County Board of Supervisors in a dispute with Linn County Auditor Joel Miller.

Miller had sought the review of the full court, which agrees to such reviews sparingly.

On Tuesday, Miller called the courtís denial of his request "unfortunate," but he said he understood the odds were long.

The five-member Board of Supervisors issued a statement: "We are pleased to put this issue behind us and look forward to focusing on our core mission and responsibilities of county government."

Miller went to court in February 2010 after he contended that the elected supervisors were wrong when they refused to let him, also an elected official, appoint a deputy auditor. Miller also argued that the supervisors did not have the authority to reduce the number of deputies in his office from four to three.

Millerís lawsuit also had a philosophical component, in which he argued that he has the ability to audit county transactions, a position that the supervisors have opposed.

As the court case was plodding ahead, the Iowa Legislature passed a new law in 2013 that explicated states that county auditors "have the authority to audit ... the financial condition and transactions of all county funds and accounts ..."

"Yes, Iíve achieved legislatively what I could not achieve in the courts,í Miller said Tuesday.

Even so, the supervisors still control the countyís purse strings, and even this week the supervisors and Miller were going back and forth over a new full-time position heíd like to add in his office to help handle real estate transactions.

Supervisor Brent Oleson on Tuesday said he doesnít oppose Millerís request, but he said he wants Miller to do add the position by prioritizing other activities in his office so he doesn't need additional revenue.

"Iím going to make sure he has enough money to do the real thing, but not all the other junk he does," Oleson said.

Miller said he needs to add a fourth real estate specialist in his office because the supervisors removed three employees from his office last summer as the supervisors moved the countyís GIS operation from Millerís supervision to the supervisorsí. At the time, Miller asked the supervisors to take two employees, not three.

Miller said his office has the same number of employees as it had in 2005 to handle real estate, elections and supervisor clerical duties even though Linn County has continued to grow and has more real estate parcels and more voters each year.

"Iím just talking about performing my statutory duties," Miller said.

The lawsuit between Miller and the supervisors has required Miller to hire a private attorney for some of his officeís legal needs because the Linn County Attorneyís Office, which typically represents the countyís elected officials, was representing the supervisors. Now the County Attorney will be able to represent Millerís office again, reducing the need for the expense of outside counsel, the supervisors have said.

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