Why Option B
Letter from Steve M Fenskej – Attorney for Minnesota Association of Townships
This letter raises the issue of Option B – Appointed Clerk/Treasurer. Again, I have been told that in last year’s election, some individuals suggested MAT advised against adoption of Option B. This is not the case – MAT expressed no opinion about this matter. We were consulted about the process and details of Option B and stated this issue is left to the voters. To avoid any misstatement of information from MAT on this issue, I want to summarize the law and policy related to Option B.
Town voters have several optional forms of township government, one of which is the appointed clerk or treasurer, called Option B. Many townships have adopted Option B to make the clerk and/or the treasurer appointed – it is not rare by any means, but a majority of towns still use an elected clerk. Regardless of the options selected by other towns, the purpose of township government is to allow for local control, and Option B provides that control.
When towns adopt Option B, it is usually for one of two reasons. First, is when a town has trouble finding a clerk or treasurer from within the town. One advantage of an appointed clerk is that the person holding it no longer needs to be a resident. This gives a larger pool of people to fill the job.
The second reason is because of conflict between the board and the clerk or treasurer. The Board of Supervisors is the governing body of the town – the clerk and treasurer are not supposed to govern or ‘run’ the town. The duties assigned to clerks and treasurer are ministerial in nature – they are given a set of tasks to complete and they complete them. There is little to no discretion in those office. For example, a clerks’ obligations to administer elections are the same in either method. The supervisors cannot interfere with those duties. Another example, the clerk holds the town’s data but doesn’t have ownership control over it. All data requests are supposed to be decided by the Board – not the clerk.
On the other hand, Supervisors have a lot of discretion in their duties. This is important because the clerk and treasurer should understand the limited role they play in the town. The clerk and treasurer are not supposed to work against the supervisors using their offices.
This is complicated by the fact that elected clerks and treasurers are not employees of the town so they do not “answer to” the board. If an employee took town information without board approval, for example, giving it out to people, the employee would be disciplined or dismissed. An elected officer cannot be dismissed by the board. The problem is that a person with power to interfere with the board refuses to respect the rules placed by the board, and there is no consequence other than to elect someone else, reduce the officer’s pay, or adopt Option B.
The advantages of Option B are: (1) larger pool of candidates to fill the job; (2) clerk/treasurer ‘answers to’ the board and is less likely to cause conflict; (3) Board can review and manage the clerk/treasurer’s administration of duties; and (4) duties that are not assigned to an elected clerk/treasurer by law can be made part of the job. The downside to Option B is that the voters remove their power to elect the person to the clerk or treasurer position. The voters retain the power to select town supervisors and if the choice of appointed clerk or treasurer is inappropriate, the blame may fall to the Board that hired those officers. In other words, there is still accountability to voters.
The decision of whether to adopt Option B is left to voters. Given Greenwood Township’s tumultuous history and refusal of prior officers to stay in their lanes, adopting Option B would be an effective means of restoring good governance and management with the board and clerk position.
After several years of observing Greenwood Township, it is clear there are deep divisions among some people concerning the town’s governance. Greenwood’s voters need to choose a direction for their local government by selecting its supervisors and then selecting a clerk and treasurer who will work with the Board. Continuing to select officers that are prone to conflict has not helped the township, and has cost it a great deal of time, money, and credibility.
Steve M. Fenske | General Counsel
Minnesota Assoc. of Townships
805 Central Avenue East
St. Michael, MN 55376-0267
(800) 228-0296 – Toll Free