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State action 'looming' to remove Clayton Auditor

Supervisors say elected official neglecting work while caring for ill wife

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The Iowa Attorney General’s Office has notified Clayton County Auditor Dennis Freitag that it will not “at this time” file a petition to remove him from the elected office but one is “looming.”

Freitag, the auditor for almost four decades, is being investigated over assertions of unsatisfactory performance — including that he let more than 1,600 emails pile up, that he didn’t cash county checks and that he left expense reports un-filed.

But by improving his performance, the Attorney General’s Office said, he can “bring this matter to a close.”

Freitag has been under fire and duress since June, when his wife’s long struggle with terminal lupus began to distract him from the duties of his office.

After a 90-minute under-oath interrogation of Freitag on Oct. 26, the Clayton County supervisors asked the Iowa Attorney General’s Office to investigate removing him from office under Iowa Code Chapter 66. The chapter lists, among reasons for removal, “willful or habitual neglect or refusal to perform the duties of the office.”

Assistant Attorney General Scott Brown, in a Dec. 18 memo to Freitag’s attorney, Peter Riley of Cedar Rapids, advised that Freitag improve his performance in six specific categories.

Freitag was advised to regularly communicate with office staff, promptly return pertinent phone calls and regularly respond to emails.

He was also advised to delegate all work he is either not doing or can’t complete on time, provide access to files and documents and refrain from even perceived retaliation against anyone associated with the county.

Supervisor Larry Gibbs said Friday that the supervisors have observed no improvement in Freitag’s performance of his duties.

“It’s frustrating. We’re at a critical time right now starting on next year’s budgets. We’ll probably have to hire outside help to get through the process,” Gibbs said.

Freitag, whose public salary is more than $50,000 a year, said he is “trying to re-evaluate the way I have been doing things.”

He said he has hired someone to help his wife with dialysis, which has freed him to work Tuesdays and Thursdays in his courthouse office while working on other days from home.

Though his cellphone was out of service for an extended period, Freitag said he never neglected phone calls to his residence and that he is making substantial headway in responding to his email backlog.

Freitag said he is not sure how he can simultaneously work on files and documents at home and make them available to office staff.

The admonition against retaliation seemed superfluous, Freitag said, since he “has never done anything to retaliate against anyone.”

Asked if the supervisors would soon be reviewing Freitag’s job performance, Gibbs said, “It’s out of our hands and up to the attorney general.”

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