- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 18, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - County officials and state lawmakers aired their grievances Tuesday about the state auditor’s handling of a new law curbing her office’s power.

They focused on State Auditor Rebecca Otto’s recent request that counties enter into a three-year contract for annual evaluations - even as they’re allowed to start hiring private firms for the routine financial audits.

To county officials such as Chisago County Administrator Bruce Messelt, the auditor’s request felt more like a demand than an invitation to the bargaining table. Republican State Rep. Bob Loonan likened it to “bullying.”

Messelt said his county plans to continue contracting with Otto’s office but called the tactic “puzzling and confusing.” Other county officials said they’ve asked the auditor’s office for more information and received little to no response.

It’s just the latest chapter in the battle over the state auditor’s duties that helped drag the Legislature into a special session this spring. Majority House Republicans pushed to allow counties to hire private auditing firms, eventually winning out over Otto’s insistence that it would eliminate much of her office’s budget and Gov. Mark Dayton’s initial veto threats.

Otto didn’t attend Tuesday’s hearing but issued a statement defending her office’s request as both legal and prudent for county management.

“This three-year contract is important due to the uncertainty created by the Legislature last session regarding county audits,” she said.

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