Linn County auditor candidates see job differently

Miller, Fagerbakke express views in forum

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MARION — The next four years, not the incumbent’s sometimes contentious current term, was the focus of last night’s forum with the candidates for Linn County auditor.

Republican challenger Garth Fagerbakke raised Auditor Joel Miller’s legal and policy differences with county supervisors in his opening statement, prompting a warning from moderator Myrna Loehrlein of the League of Women Voters Linn County.

“In our forum tonight, we want to know what you will do for us if you are elected,” Loehrlein said. “Let’s really try to focus on that.”

Fagerbakke said he’s running “to restore the integrity and the efficiency back to the office” that he said has been lost under Miller.

“We’re doing the work every day,” Miller said in his own opening statement. “We’re going to continue to improve.”

Because its outcome would determine the course of his second full term, the League’s terms left Miller room to remind the audience of his lawsuit against county supervisors in his own opening statement.

“Whether the auditor can audit is really a fundamental issue in this election,” Miller said. “That question needs to be answered.”

Miller filed suit in February 2010 after supervisors blocked his hiring a fourth deputy auditor to conduct internal audits of accounts maintained by other departments. The supervisors countersued, claiming 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, and a ruling is pending.

Both men did spell out their differences in philosophy in answering an hour’s worth of question from the audience of about 65. Fagerbakke said his first priority if elected would be to “see what I can do to improve relationships” with county supervisors and other officials.

“I think you expect the auditor to audit,” Miller responded to the same question.

Fagerbakke said the auditor’s post is administrative, handling bills and payroll, maintaining facilities, and conducting elections.

“They’re ministerial-type tasks, but they have to be done with integrity,” said Fagerbakke.

“They’re supposed to be autonomous, independent positions that report to the electorate,” countered Miller. “Not to the Board of Supervisors.”

Democrat Miller, 57, of Robins, is running for what would be his second full term.

Fagerbakke, 53, of Marion, worked for Miller as facilities maintenance manager until county supervisors named him construction services manager to supervise flood recovery projects.

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