Becker County moved forward with plans to make the county recorder position appointed by the County Board, rather than elected.
Only one person showed up at a public hearing Tuesday. Clint Danielson, who lives north of Detroit Lakes in the Spring Lake area, opposed the idea and wanted assurances from commissioners that the proposed change wasn’t being mandated by the state.
“Absolutely not,” responded Board Chairman Barry Nelson. “The law was changed (some time ago) to allow county boards to make it appointive.”
“I feel pretty strongly we need to keep the people’s voice in the courthouse, keep it an elected position,” Danielson said. “I have concerns about making it appointive, I don’t think that’s a good thing.” He favors keeping all elected county positions elective.
The position opened up with the recent death of County Recorder Patty Swenson, 51, who worked in the Becker County Zoning Office for over 20 years and was first elected Becker County Recorder in 2014.
Nelson said the board’s main reason for wanting to appoint the recorder is to ensure that a qualified person runs the office. Unlike the sheriff and county attorney, no professional credentials are required to run for county recorder, he said. Swenson was well-qualified because of her background, but there is no guarantee her successor will be, he said.
“Recorders are not generally well known throughout the county,” he added. “Patty was an exception — she worked for us (Becker County) for 30 years.”
Commissioners Larry Knutson and John Okeson agreed. “The most important thing is to have a qualified individual,” Knutson said.
“A qualified person is key here,” Okeson agreed. “Patty said she had no problem with (the position becoming) appointed.”
Commissioner Ben Grimsley, who is active in a statewide association of counties, noted that other counties have faced large legal bills caused by malfeasance by elected department heads. “There’s really no recourse in those situations,” he said. “It’s not a problem here, but it has been in other counties.”
The board voted 4-0 (with Commissioner Richard Vareberg absent for a professional trades meeting) to start the timeline to move forward with the change.
The public now has 30 days from the time of that decision (Nov. 16) to file for a reverse referendum to keep the position elected. That would require a petition signed by over 2,000 county residents — the actual number of petition-signers is calculated based on 10% of the number of county residents that voted in the last election.
The main job of the County Recorder is to accept and maintain a permanent public repository of real estate records, according to the Minnesota Association of County Officers.
“Types of documents in the repository include deeds, mortgages, contracts for deed, mortgage satisfactions, foreclosure records, probate documents, and easements. In Minnesota there are two systems of public real estate records, Abstract and Torrens,” the association explained on its website.