If there's an unhealthy and unproductive rift between Duluth and the Iron Range - and there seems to be based on the comments of some elected St. Louis County Board members over the years and even some board candidates this fall - then the election on Nov. 6 of Brandon Larson as county auditor can be part of a healing.
Larson lives on the Iron Range in Mountain Iron and commutes daily to Duluth where he manages the tax division in the county auditor's office. He literally and daily bridges any north-south county chasm.
As tax division manager, he also handles $305 million in local government levy authority, including for Duluth and all the Iron Range communities. He knows the nuances and attitudes in different parts of the county stemming from geography and size. And he has been in position to unite rather than further separate.
His election as county auditor can only enhance and strengthen any healing that may be necessary.
"It is very important that someone in the role (of county auditor) understand that while Duluth is the central hub and it is a major part of St. Louis County, we operate as one entity. We have to make sure that all the voices and everybody throughout everywhere are being heard," Larson said in an interview this fall with members of the News Tribune Editorial Board. "We have to work together. I think the auditor should understand that as well and have outreach with all of the communities. ... That's why I really focus on talking to everybody."
Outgoing St. Louis County Auditor Don Dicklich similarly could relate in a broader way. He worked in finance in mining before having an office in Duluth. Dicklich, the county auditor since 2004, didn't file for re-election this year.
Two high-ranking members of his office are vying to replace him: There's Larson and there's the county's chief deputy auditor, Nancy Nilsen, a Duluth School Board member when the Red Plan was approved. Nilsen has a background in computers and information technology with the county and also in health care and defense.
"I have a broad background," Nelson said in a separate interview. "Experience matters. It's my experiences of, really, one-on-one with Don (that will allow) a smooth transition (so the county auditor's office can) continue to operate as we have been doing."
The office has been running well, Larson acknowledged. But he sees opportunities for improvements, especially in how the office serves the county's many and diverse communities.
County officials can continue to embrace technology, including digitizing records so they're more easily accessible to the public, Larson said. A new project recently was launched to improve communications between the auditor's and assessor's departments. And the county must maintain its solid AA-plus bond rating so it can continue to invest in maintaining public amenities as well as roads, bridges and other infrastructure.
"Better communication and more transparency," Larson said. "I've always been a proponent of customer service. I've always pushed that with my staff over everything, because the general public is who we serve."
Larson has been seeking out ways to better serve the public by learning from the best practices of others through his memberships in the Minnesota Association of County Officers and Minnesota Association of County Auditors, Treasurers and Finance Officers, among other connections.
In addition, an Iron Range native, he graduated from the University of Minnesota Duluth where he studied business administration, management information systems, accounting, and finance. He worked for United Healthcare before joining the county in 2006 as a tax analyst and supervisor. He currently also is the tax increment finance director for the county and handles property records.
"I've been in the trenches in terms of everything that goes on in our office," Larson said. "I'm the father of a young family. It's important to me that the county continues to thrive and we have the ability to provide the services and a future for our children."
Most voters on Nov. 6 would agree they want that, too - no matter where in St. Louis County they might live and regardless of whether they agree there's a Duluth-Range rift.
About this endorsement
This News Tribune endorsement editorial was determined entirely by the newspaper's Editorial Board. The board's members are Publisher Neal Ronquist, Editorial Page Editor Chuck Frederick, employee representative Kris Vereecken, citizen representative Julene Boe and citizen representative Denise Wise.