Three auditor-treasurer candidates talk finances and elections at candidate forum in DL
Three candidates for the Becker County auditor-treasurer position – Darin Halvorson, Mary Hendrickson and Brant Mouw – faced off at a candidate forum Tuesday at the Detroit Lakes Public Library.
With about 60 people packed into the meeting room there, the candidates played to a full house.
Asked whether there was a backlog of accounts receivable in the auditor-treasurer’s office, Mouw said that was a better question for Halverson and Hendrickson, who already work in the auditor-treasurer’s office.
But with extensive accounting, business and management experience, Mouw said he is familiar with checks and balances and trained in problem solving.
He is trained to identify problems in certain accounting procedures and apply short-term, and long-term corrective action to make sure they are solved and don’t happen again.
“I certainly could handle the situation if it occurred,” he said.
Halvorson was quick in his response: “We do have probably $800,000 in accounts receivable on the books that have not been written off,” mostly from Human Services accounts, he said. If elected, he promised “improved accountability to make sure that’s looked at every year.”
Hendrickson agreed about the accounts receivable, and added that the county “also collects property taxes, we do have a forfeiture process and offer it back to the public on forfeited land sales. That “improves the tax base and makes sure everyone pays their fair share.”
The candidates were next asked about the biggest challenge faced by the department, and opportunities for change there.
Halvorson said the major challenge for the office, not for him personally, is keeping up with technology. When he started in the office 22 years ago, there were 14 employees, now there are eight, he said. And by joining the same accounting system that the sheriff’s office uses, the number of employees can be further reduced as another position is reduced through attrition, he said.
Mouw said the campaign for auditor-treasurer will create a “fractured office” no matter who wins.
“Relationships there will change,” he said, “and with change you need experience. I have great experience with change.”
In a previous job, he managed about 50 employees and another 150 contract workers.
With that many people, “there was constant coming and going when I managed,” he said. “I’m in a good position to lead the office through that change.”
Hendrickson said the department is understaffed.
“The major challenge I see is we’ve lost three staff members since the first of March – I’m still trying to replace those positions.”
The department is cross-training its members, but “there is constant change in software and new technology. We’re trying to keep up with the newest programs, and state election law changes every year … we will continue to improve every year, and we’re doing the best we can,” she said.
Asked how they would describe their management style, Hendrickson said, “I lead by example. I come early, I stay late. I’m a hard worker. I expect everyone under me to be accurate and ask for assistance if they need it … you can be compassionate without being lenient.”
Halvorson said his style is to use “open, honest communication. Have team-building meetings once a week. Set goals and objectives to achieve. I’m pretty positive I won’t be the boss, working with eight women, but I can be the leader, maybe,” he joked.
Mouw described his style as “participatory, certainly not authoritarian.”
He believes in “management by walking around,” talking to employees, finding out what they’re working on and how they’re approaching problems.
“I’m not the expert,” he said. “You ask the people doing the job day in and day out what’s working.”
As a manager, Mouw said he was no stranger to letting employees go who were not a good fit for the company.
Just recently, he said, he ran into a man he terminated two years ago. Now working for Microsoft, the man said “I’m doing what I should have been doing two years ago.”
That being said, Mouw added, “I’m certainly a nice guy, I don’t want to slight anybody.”
In closing, Hendrickson pointed out that she is acting auditor-treasurer, that she has 27 years with the department, and is currently involved in training election judges for the Aug. 12 primary vote.
“We have now trained over 300 judges for the upcoming primary,” she said. “I hope to see you all on Aug. 12.”
Mouw said he has the technical competence to handle the auditor-treasurer job.
“I’ve been managing and developing (financial) software for the last 15 years now, it doesn’t get much more technical than that,” he said.
As the only candidate in the race who doesn’t currently work in the office (he is a senior program manager for VMC Consulting, working at Microsoft for the last year) he said he will bring an outsider’s eye to the auditor-treasurer’s office.
He told the story of the daughter and granddaughter who dutifully followed their mother’s lead and always cut off the end of a ham before baking it.
They thought maybe it made the ham juicier or something, but when asked, the old woman replied simply that she always cut the end off the ham “because my roasting pan wasn’t big enough.”
An outsider’s perspective is an advantage to all involved, Mouw said. “That’s the benefit I bring as someone outside the county, there’s a lot of experience I can bring to the county in that regard.”
Halvorson said his “track record shows my dedication and passion for Becker County.” He has gained valuable experience in his years at the auditor-treasurer’s office, and by extensive networking with peers in other counties.
“I am confident I’m your best choice for auditor-treasurer in Becker County,” he said.
The forum was sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Chamber of Commerce, and moderated by Sharon Sinclair.