The two candidates running for Burleigh County auditor both emphasize the need to keep the public informed about county operations and budget decisions, but they differ in other priorities.
Tracy Potter and Leo Vetter advanced in the June primary, with Potter earning 40% of the vote and Vetter 37%. They beat out Dale Patrick, who received 22%. The winner in November will serve until 2022, when former auditor Kevin Glatt's term was set to end. Glatt resigned in October 2019 without offering a reason.
The auditor acts as one of the county's chief financial officers, oversees elections and manages public records. The starting salary for the position is $78,769 and $88,566, depending on experience, according to Burleigh County Election Manager Erika White.
Potter pledges transparency
Potter said his initial goal in running for auditor was to inspire residents to vote down a ballot measure proposing that the auditor be appointed instead of elected. That measure failed in the June election.
"The discussion on making it appointed got my goat," he said.
Now that he has advanced from the primary, Potter wants to restore voting locations in the county for the 2022 primary if elected. Burleigh County has 15 polling sites for the general election, down from 27 in 2016. The county reduced polling locations this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Potter said he has heard concerns from residents about the shrinking number of voting locations. He said he would scout out voting sites based on neighborhood and begin recruiting poll workers early in the process to make sure locations are fully staffed.
The role of the county auditor is to be "objective, independent and transparent," Potter said. It would be his role to "shine a light" for the people on the workings of the county and the county commission, he said.
Potter takes issue with the way the county created its 2021 budget. The commission this year formed a budget committee that included Commission Chairman Jerry Woodcox, Commissioner Kathleen Jones, current County Auditor Allan Vietmeier and Finance Director Robin Grenz. The committee created a suggested budget that was then presented to the full commission. Potter said he thinks the committee method limits the amount of community input on the budget, and he would ask for more public input as auditor.
Potter also said he would work to find better ways to safely involve people in commission meetings. He hasn't attended a commission meeting in person since the beginning of the pandemic, though he watches them remotely.
"It's a matter of engaging the public so they will influence what the commission does," he said.
Potter retired from the Fort Abraham Lincoln Foundation in 2015 after 21 years as the executive director. He served as a Democratic state senator for District 35 from 2006-10 and led the state tourism office from 1992-93. He was the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate in 2010 and for state school superintendent in 2012. Potter and his wife, Laura Anholt, have been married for 42 years. They have two children.
Vetter wants wise spending
Before owning his own construction company, Vetter worked in the state auditor's office for 3 ½ years in the 1980s. He helped audit local governments, including counties, as part of his work.
Vetter formed Vetter Homes in the late 1980s because construction had always been a passion of his. Now, he said, he's running for auditor to return to a second passion: accounting.
"I've worked in construction most of my life, and now is the perfect time to get back into accounting," he said.
Vetter said he wouldn't do much to change how the county functions if elected because he believes the county's current system is "well devised." He said that as auditor, he would make sure the county spends taxpayer money wisely. Vetter said the auditor as a public official needs to help the commission make smart budget decisions.
Vetter also supported the county's use of a budget committee this year, saying that it allows people to come together and discuss issues other committee members might not know about.
"The more people, the more power you have to make a decision," he said.
Vetter said he hasn't heard any complaints or suggestions from voters about the current auditor's office. Overall, he said, the county auditor is a public office, and the goal should be to work with residents who have any concerns about the county.
The Burleigh County auditor also helps run local elections. Vetter said he does not have much experience with managing elections but that's he's "easily trained" and that he would let more-experienced election officials show him the ropes.
Vetter and his wife, Diane, have been married for 36 years. They have two children and four grandchildren.
Reach Sam Nelson at 701-250-8264 or email@example.com.
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