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Primary Election Q. & A. – Candidates share personal views, opinions

By Staff | May 27, 2008

Primary election day is quickly approaching in Iowa. The date is Tuesday, June 3 and precinct polling places are expected to be busy as there are two hotly contested races in Emmet County.

Three candidates are seeking the Democratic nomination for the seat of Emmet County Auditor. They are Mikki Erickson, Michelle Howing and Tammy Lair and all have accounting either in their background and/or current occupation.

Three other candidates, two Democrat and one Republican, are seeking the Emmet County sheriff’s position. Mike Martens and Brent Shatto are opponents on the Democratic ticket while Gene Haukoos is the lone candidate on the Republican ballot.

Below are the questions posed to the candidates in the auditor’s race. Their responses are printed today to help voters decide the best woman for the job.

The position is a four-year term.

Emmet County Auditor race

What do you believe are the duties of the Emmet County auditor?

Erickson: Auditor duties include: budget manager, clerk to board of supervisors, financial officer, commissioner of elections, county registrar of voters, custodian of election returns, courthouse and human resources manager and everseer of county plats. In addition, as county tax accountant, the auditor tabulates taxable valuations and applies these tax rates to each property in the county. Reports required by the Bureau of Census, Labor, OSHA and Job Service of Iowa are prepared by the auditor. Manure management plans, Livestock confinement construction permits, drainage records, road and bridge records and insurance policies are filed and maintained in the auditor’s office.

Howing: The Emmet County Auditor duties include preparing and certifying tax levies; maintaining financial records for the county including: performing payroll and accounting functions, preparing the county budget, preparing annual financial report, audits budgets for all other local jurisdictions, and calculates tax rates and taxes. The auditor serves as clerk to the board of supervisors including preparing agendas, provides public access to board minutes, plat and transfer records, and completes drainage minutes and assessments.

As commissioner of elections the auditor registers voters, issues absentee ballots, trains election workers and conducts elections. The county auditor also maintains real estate transfer records.

Lair: The auditor performs all accounting and payroll duties for the county. The auditor prepares the county budget and the annual financial statement. The auditor prepares and certifies tax levies, audits budgets, calculates rates and taxes.

The auditor is the secretary to the county board of supervisors and provides the board minutes to the public. The position is also responsible for drainage minutes, assessments, and maintains all real estate transfer records.

The auditor serves as commissioner for every election in Emmet County, which includes preparation, election day, and follow up. This office registers voters, issues absentee ballots, and trains election workers.

Why are you seeking the position and what are your qualifications?

Erickson: I believe I have the education and employment experience to be an effective auditor and valuable asset to Emmet County. I earned my MBA from Southwest Minnesota State University, BA from Buena Vista University and AA from Iowa Lakes Community College. Class work includes: accounting-five semesters, business law-three semesters, financial analysis, business finance and human resource management. Work experience includes: facilities specialist (1998-present) for all five Iowa Lakes campuses with budgets totaling in excess of $2 million and Rohlin Construction (1993-1998) as account receivable clerk and contractor administrator.

Howing: I chose to run for Auditor because the position incorporates my accounting background, experience in county government, working with boards, and a lifelong interest in elections and the political process. My experience as the Emmet County Attorney’s Office Manager has given me a good understanding of how county government works. Throughout the years I have built working relationships with many other departments within the county. Additionally, I have an Associates Degree in accounting and 15+ years of related experience. As Dickinson County Board of Health Secretary I prepared agendas and took minutes of board meetings, tasks expected of the Auditor.

Lair: The office of Emmet County Auditor is a very important position and I have researched the position very seriously. It is a position that I feel very well suited for because of my accounting background. I have been an accountant for over 25 years and I have worked with governmental audits and the county chart of accounts. I worked 15 years with a private non-profit organization and maintained a multi-million dollar budget. I have experience preparing budgets, preparing payroll and payroll tax returns, and I have vast experience in the preparation and the interpretation of financial statements.

How do plan to keep the county running efficiently given budget constrants?

Erickson: Efficiencies should be sought regardless of budget deficit or surplus. Long-term planning, including short and long term goal setting is the best way to maximize results and avoid over spending. During short-term emergency situations it becomes necessary to reduce spending to absolute necessities. Energy costs would appear to be the most pressing cost issue in both the short and long-term. Input from every level of county operations should be sought in order to reduce energy consumption, duplication of services and unwarranted expenses.

Howing: I make decisions daily to keep our office within budget and would continue to do so as Auditor. I monitor spending and allocate funds where the need is greatest. I firmly believed that the county attorney’s office needed additional staff to adequately serve crime victims. The county budget could not provide such a position, so I applied for and received grant funding to support a victim witness coordinator. When the community service coordinator resigned, I appeared in front of the board of the supervisors and due to budget constraints, took on the responsibility of that position at no additional pay.

Lair: I believe that the county must set a realistic budget and then live within that budget. Fiscal responsibility is very important to all the people of Emmet County.

The auditor, technically, has no control over the budget. The auditor must maintain the records to indicate that the county has spent appropriately and that the spending stays within the confines of the budget set and approved by the county board of supervisors. The auditor maintains the accounting for every revenue source and expenditure, however, the auditor cannot reallocate money from any line item on the budget to cover any deficits.

What sort of relationship do you hope to have with the media and the general public?

Erickson: I hope to have a very open and positive relationship with the media and the general public. As an elected county official my primary duty is to serve the citizens of Emmet County and to provide timely necessary information. Legally the auditor is required to notify the media regarding board meetings and their proceedings.

Howing: As the Emmet County Attorney’s office manager I have had the opportunity to work with state and local media and have a good relationship with them. I would strive to continue that relationship as auditor. Taxpayers are entitled to know what is going on in their government and elected officials are accountable to them. Throughout my personal and professional life I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a diverse group of people. Interacting with the public is something I greatly enjoy. As auditor anyone visiting the auditor’s office will continue to be treated with respect and receive quality, friendly service.

Lair: I believe that I will maintain a very positive and professional relationship with the media and the general public. I have worked with the general public for many years and I believe that it is important to be open and friendly to all people. It is important that government positions such as the Emmet County auditor, allow for open communication, listen to the public, and inform the public of all county activities in regard to the county budget, revenue, expenditures, real estate transfers, and all public elections.

As auditor, would you put manure management plans and renewals on supervisor agendas before they are approved?

Erickson: Yes, if requested by the board of supervisors I would gladly put manure management plans and renewals on the supervisor agendas. As clerk to the board of supervisors it is the auditor’s job to prepare the supervisor agendas and to notify the media. Approval of manure management plans, plan updates and livestock confinement construction permits are granted by the DNR. During the permit process the DNR notifies the board and the supervisors then review the plans and permits and are able to submit comments. The completed plans and permits are filed in the auditor’s office.

Howing: If a manure management plan would require approval by the Board, it would certainly go on the agenda. Iowa law provides these plans be filed with the auditor and approved by the DNR. Anyone may go to the auditor’s office to view these plans. The auditor has many duties, one of which is to serve as secretary to the Board of Supervisors. As such, the auditor has no authority to entirely determine the board’s agenda. Typically, the auditor develops and publishes board agendas from requests of the board, other public and private agencies as well as the general public.

Lair: Yes, however, the auditor is only secretary to the board of supervisors. The agendas are set by the county board of supervisors and the role of the auditor is to supply the agenda to all supervisors and report the meeting to the public.

The county must receive a copy of the manure management plan and the DNR is the body that actually approves the plans. As long as the manure management plan meets the requirements of the county matrix and the DNR approves the plan, the supervisors or auditor have no say so in the approval or disapproval.