Petition presented at Steele County board meeting
In Tuesday’s board meeting, a petition was submitted to the council for the return of public funds and forfeiture of office for Mark Schultz, James Ebeling and Nina Huntington.
Rich Ludescher, an attorney from Northfield, Minn. presented the council with the petition. The document had over 300 signatures of Steele County residents pertaining to Per Diem taken by the three members named that were incomplete requests when submitted to the county to be paid. Ludescher mentioned that the petition is clear in what needs to be done by the council members. “The board or offices are authorized by law, plus auditing claims and that allows the claims until the person has paid it and reduces it to writing, in record and signs the declaration to the fact that such and account, claim or demand is just and correct,” he said.
Ludescher continued that he did review some of the records and all the records that are included in the petition, none of the per diem requests had a declaration in there saying the account is just and correct and no amount of it has been paid. There was also information gathered from one of the members of the audience from the state auditor. The State Auditor stated that committee work may include information gathering as well as liaison activity, may be a part of the board’s activity. It was also stated that when a per diem is claimed for a commissioners community work or service required by law, the county must make and preserve the records necessary to support the payment. “There is nothing in the records indicating that any of the per diem’s you took were approved by the commissioners and nothing stating what you did as part of that expect the blank statement saying you took the money to attend a particular meeting.” the attorney said.
Attorney Ludescher continued that there should be documentation that states the requested per diem is part of a necessary payment as you performing part of your services. “I found no record that the board approved you going to those activities and getting a per diem as a part of going,” he said. Ludescher reiterated that as council member they are not prevented from going, it’s just a matter of if they were to be reimbursed for the time as part of their duty, then it has to be stated and documented as to why it was necessary.
After going through the petition with the council, Ludescher summed it up into three key points. First, the council must approve the request of a per diem. Secondly, it has to be necessary as part of your job. Lastly, that member must come back to the council and report what they did as payment. Before it was open for comment, Ludescher finished with by stating the 300 signatures on the petition are those in favor of council members returning the per diem payments and voluntarily resigning from their respected positions.
Dan McIntosh, the county attorney, stated that he was provided all the information within the packet and that the guidance from State Auditor is from 2010, making it outdated information. He also stated to the council that he doesn’t believe they have any authority to take action on the petition due to the fact that items cannot be voted on if they carry personal interest. With that issue, he recommends that the issue is referred it to the state auditor for review as a course of action. “They will have access to annual audits and well as the individual records.
James “Corky” Ebeling, one of the board members, spoke on the issue. He stated, early in his career, he wasn’t properly informed on how per diems were to be filed, leading to a few minor mistakes that were immediately resolved. Once the issues were resolved, Ebeling mentioned that he asked the auditor and the administrator to come up with policies to help alleviate the issue. “Since that time, I believe 100 percent that all per diems were done within the law,” he said.
There were multiple members of the county that spoke on the matter. The people may have been different but the point they were trying to stress were the same. Every individual that spoke to the council spoke about the frustration that has been billowing over the issue. One member of the audience said that “This going to the State Auditor would be the best thing in the world. So I’m looking forward to it.”
There were immediate notions about when this issue will be brought to the capital.