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Public kicks back on plan to appoint

Some Becker County residents are concerned that the County Board is slowly taking away their right to vote.

Tuesday morning, the Becker County commissioners held a public hearing to hear comment on both combining the auditor-treasure position with the recorder position, and on making the position an appointed one instead of an elected one.

“We keep losing our vote every day and pretty soon we won’t have the choice to elect you guys and you’ll just start appointing each other,” Allen Knopf said during the public meeting.

He added that the County Board doesn’t have the right to take away the people’s right to vote.

“I refuse to sit here and do nothing. It’s insulting to me as a veteran by taking away my right to vote,” Perry Bentek said.

Former county auditor Keith Brekken said he came out of retirement to question the board on this matter, saying they are taking away the checks and balances system if they move away from electing the position to appointing it.

“I’d like to see it stay elected and not combine the offices,” he said, adding that it has been an elected position since 1858 when the state began.

Clarence Suvanto said the people should have the right to vote, and also questioned the county as to what it’s gaining by combining more offices.

“It has to be greed as far as money,” he said. “I can save money by not hiring (for this vacancy) he said is what the county’s thinking is.

“Our freedom, little by little, is disappearing,” he said. “I hope this is not a done deal.”

Commissioner Barry Nelson said that the county isn’t necessarily going with the combined position or appointing the person, it’s just an option. The legislature has a bill before them that would allow Becker County to appoint an auditor-treasure-recorder rather than having one be elected.

The board signed a letter of support for the state to allow this, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the county will move to that either.

Brekken said that if the county does want to move forward with changing the position from elected to appointed, it should go to a vote of the people instead of the county board being able to make that decision.

Dave Knopf, who has served on the Lakeview Township board in the past, said it’s a public service for people to serve on office and on boards, and that right and duty shouldn’t be taken away.

“You shouldn’t take those elected positions away,” he told commissioners, adding that they shouldn’t combine any more department heads than the county already has done.

Elections give the public the chance to know their candidates rather than having the board just appoint someone.

Commissioner Ben Grimsley said one reason for moving to appointed rather than elected would be for more qualified applicants with education and experience.

The commissioners also said that some people want the job security of not having to be elected every four years since this is their full-time job, not like a board member where they have another job and sitting on the board is a side project.

Audience members argued that’s not true and that other officials are elected every four years, like the sheriff, for example.

“Don’t change government because it’s an opportune time,” Brekken said.

Dave Knopf said this started with the county surveyor position being switched last month from elected to appointed. While Roy Smith is an excellent person, he said, the people should still have the right to vote for candidates instead of the county appointing them.

He said who cares if no one happens to challenge the incumbent candidate, it’s still a right to vote.

Some audience members thought the county should give more notice of the public hearing and of the possible change, saying that it came up so quickly many people didn’t even know about it.

The public hearing has been extended to the county board’s May 13 meeting. Audience members in attendance said the county should change the meeting to an evening to get more people giving feedback rather than at 11 a.m. during the meeting when many people are working.

The commissioners agreed that they could do that if needed in the future.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.