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Our view / endorsement: State voters oughta re-elect Auditor Otto

The job of state auditor is to make sure that $20 billion spent annually in Minnesota by 3,300 different local government bodies and taxing entities is done so properly and appropriately.

Rebecca Otto

The job of state auditor is to make sure that $20 billion spent annually in Minnesota by 3,300 different local government bodies and taxing entities is done so properly and appropriately.
“It’s all about good government, transparency and accountability,” Minnesota State Auditor Rebecca Otto said in an interview this fall with members of the News Tribune editorial board. “The integrity of the numbers is critical.”
Under Otto’s watch over two terms and eight years, the numbers have been adding up well with a welcome focus from her office on heading off fraudulent or inappropriate spending before it happens. In a race Minnesota voters won’t learn much about, despite the importance of the job and the massive amount of money at stake, they still can feel assured of excellent accountability by picking an
incumbent who has been recognized nationally and who has been celebrated by the Institute of Internal Auditors, the National State Auditors Association and others.
“I work every day to make sure people can trust their government, and it’s all the local governments” with the exception of school districts, Otto said. “Trust comes from transparent government, transparent in their financial transactions, an accountable government, meaning they’re following the laws when spending the money (and) they’re being good stewards of those funds (with) good internal controls and segregation of duties … and that no one is taking it.”
An ambitious and proactive forward-thinker, Otto, in her third term, wants to be able to present to taxpayers, community-by-community, a more visual and easier-to-understand accounting of their local government entities’ spending and budgets. This is information not always available, especially in smaller cities and townships.
She also wants to produce a report, again community-by-community, detailing water, sewer, road repair and other needs and the expected costs associated with those needs. The point of the report would be to prevent future financial liabilities with a goal of planning for the challenges instead.
“I want to provide that to the Legislature and to the governor to help inform their policy and appropriation discussions. I think if we had kind of a road map to look at visually and (if we) understood what the most critical needs were, that would be really helpful in the conversation and planning,” Otto said. “It’s super ambitious. … Rather than waiting for crises, maybe planning with better information would help prevent (crises).”
Otto’s Republican challenger, Randy Gilbert, a University of Minnesota Duluth graduate and the former mayor of Long Lake, Minn., has been dealing with a crisis. Twin Cities media have been reporting on leaked emails suggesting Gilbert engaged in romantic trysts with a real estate agent inside other people’s houses without the owners’ knowledge or consent.
“That’s DFL politics working at its best,” Gilbert said when editorial board members asked him about the situation. “There’s nothing in there that’s more than embarrassing. … It’s sad that this race has to get so political again.”
Gilbert argues he’s more qualified for the job than the incumbent because he’s an accountant and an auditor. But the reports of inappropriate behavior are enough to concern any Minnesota voter.
Not that Otto is free of all concern. She cast the lone “no” vote nearly a year ago as a member of the state’s Executive Council when mining leases were approved for exploratory drilling for copper and other precious metals in Northeastern Minnesota. Afterward her re-election campaign tried to cash in on the vote, sending out an email seeking donations from environmental activists and others.
“I wanted to make a statement that as a state we are very careful about how we proceed to make sure we get adequate damage deposits from these (metals mining) firms so that we are not left on the hook and having to pay,” Otto said, expressing not one hint of regret about her vote. “It wasn’t partisan in any way, shape or form. It was me doing my job, calling out a potential financial liability.”

Financial assurances have since been firmed up, Otto contends; and voters can pick Otto but also while demanding less politics in a position that ought not be political.

About this endorsement

This endorsement was determined by the News Tribune editorial board.

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