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Otto keeps low profile, aids local governments

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news Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

State Auditor Rebecca Otto works behind the scenes with local governments to do their jobs efficiently. Former State Auditor Pat Anderson calls a lot of news conferences and proclaims herself as a "watchdog" over local government spending.

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That's the difference between the two state auditor candidates in this fall's election -- plain and simple. At least, that's Otto's assessment as she seeks a second term this fall.

"I enjoy my job; I'm being attacked for doing my job," Otto said in an interview earlier this week while in Bemidji. "Pat clearly has a different opinion about the job as state auditor. She believes your name should be in the headlines all the time, and then it's about you as the state auditor.

"I don't believe in that," Otto adds. "I believe your job is to put your nose to the grindstone and make government better. ... I'm not flashy and I'm not politically highly polished, I've been doing the work for the people."

Otto, a former state legislator and a Democrat, defeated incumbent Anderson, a former suburban mayor and a Republican, in 2006. The two have been in one of the most embittered campaigns -- then and now -- as any on the ballot.

This year, accusations have flown back and forth about the Republican Party making unreasonable data requests that have tied up state auditor staff, to charges that Otto and her staff have lavishly spent money on trips and meals. Otto notes that Anderson can't do the math on her campaign finance reports and that the Republican Party chairman, Tony Sutton, a former Anderson staffer, can't do his math, either, in an attack on Otto.

"She doesn't have a job right now, so she's running for auditor," says Otto. "She wants her job back. She wants to bring partisanship back to the office and bash government, simply saying it's bad. I work to make it better."

Otto says she doesn't seek headlines, but rather works with local governments to ensure transparency and efficiency. That's another difference, she says, between her and Anderson.

"I wouldn't run for office again if I didn't believe that I could actually do some more really good work for Minnesotans," Otto said. "And I know I can. But I have a unique personality and a unique set of skills that may not make the headlines but it certainly makes for better government, because I want to make us a national leader again in lots of areas."

Anderson, in issuing the many state-mandated reports over the year, would issue comments with them. For instance, on a report about county finances, she would comment on those counties with fund balances she thought were too large.

"We took all the judgmental language out of the reports," Otto said of her term. "It's not my job to judge, I'm not partisan. What I always tell local officials is this, we're going to put out your information and make sure it's transparent. I'll give media helpful sheets of what's a responsible unreserved fund balance for a county."

If outside the range, she tells local officials they'd better have a policy to determine the appropriate balance and be able to explain it to the media.

"I am not a partisan auditor," Otto said, accusing Anderson of doing so in appointing Sutton as deputy auditor, who oversaw those financial reports.

Otto is traveling Minnesota on a statewide "Excellence Tour" to highlight her results as state auditor.

Four thousand local governments in Minnesota spend $20 billion a year, she said, adding that she wants to leave a legacy in how she's helping it all work.

"I want lasting impact for my work," said Otto, who wrote a report that "helped local governments find the money to make wise investments to reduce energy costs. That's still low-hanging fruit for us in government."

Investments could be the retrofit of a building, installing a wind generator, or simply doihg a lighting audit and retrofit, she said. "If you can reduce those overhead costs, you can put that money back into public safety, repairing streets, highways and bridges, the things that our local governments do; putting teachers in the classroom if its schools."

The effort helped Otto win the National State Auditors Association's Excellence in Accountability Award for 2009. She was also elected to the Executive Committee of the association, putting her in line to be president.

Otto recently helped form and will chair the Collaborative Governance Council, which brings experts from the public and private sectors together to find new ways to collaborate and innovate to produce more efficient government.

"Collaboration is essential in tight times," she said. "It is more efficient and leads to better results for taxpayers."

Otto will shortly convene the Council on Local Results and Innovation, which will set benchmarks for local government services.

"We will be creating performance benchmarks for cities and counties," Otto said. "This is really getting arund service delivery and the public's perception of what they've gotten, are they getting good value. ... You look at your outcomes, and if your outcomes aren't what you want them to be, then you change what you're doing."

While Anderson as state auditor bashed Local Government Aid to cities, Otto says it is an important source of revenue for cities that don't have the tax capacity for essential services.

Otto notes that in 2003, Anderson recommended cutting LGA by 43 percent to help balance the state budget, and classified things such as parks, libraries and public health as non-essential to local communities.

Cutting LGA has driven city property taxes up by 102 percent since then, Otto said. "The state auditor oversees local community finances, not the state's budget deficit. Dumping the state's fiscal mess onto property taxes is not the solution and her pushing for LGA cuts cost us all."

Meanwhile, city spending over the last 10 years has declined 6.7 percent, she said.

Otto also notes that her office has conducted three times as many investigations as did Anderson.

"I don't need the headlines and I don't need to raise my political profile," Otto said. "I need to get the good work done and I don't always get credit for it, but I don't care. If I know I've left a legacy for the state and I've left it in better shape in terms of community by community, I'll feel really good.

"That's my job," she said.

Y bswenson@bemidjipioneer.com

State Auditor Rebecca Otto works behind the scenes with local governments to do their jobs efficiently. Former State Auditor Pat Anderson calls a lot of news conferences and proclaims herself as a "watchdog" over local government spending.

That's the difference between the two state auditor candidates in this fall's election -- plain and simple. At least, that's Otto's assessment as she seeks a second term this fall.

"I enjoy my job; I'm being attacked for doing my job," Otto said in an interview earlier this week while in Bemidji. "Pat clearly has a different opinion about the job as state auditor. She believes your name should be in the headlines all the time, and then it's about you as the state auditor.

"I don't believe in that," Otto adds. "I believe your job is to put your nose to the grindstone and make government better. ... I'm not flashy and I'm not politically highly polished, I've been doing the work for the people."

Otto, a former state legislator and a Democrat, defeated incumbent Anderson, a former suburban mayor and a Republican, in 2006. The two have been in one of the most embittered campaigns -- then and now -- as any on the ballot.

This year, accusations have flown back and forth about the Republican Party making unreasonable data requests that have tied up state auditor staff, to charges that Otto and her staff have lavishly spent money on trips and meals. Otto notes that Anderson can't do the math on her campaign finance reports and that the Republican Party chairman, Tony Sutton, a former Anderson staffer, can't do his math, either, in an attack on Otto.

"She doesn't have a job right now, so she's running for auditor," says Otto. "She wants her job back. She wants to bring partisanship back to the office and bash government, simply saying it's bad. I work to make it better."

Otto says she doesn't seek headlines, but rather works with local governments to ensure transparency and efficiency. That's another difference, she says, between her and Anderson.

"I wouldn't run for office again if I didn't believe that I could actually do some more really good work for Minnesotans," Otto said. "And I know I can. But I have a unique personality and a unique set of skills that may not make the headlines but it certainly makes for better government, because I want to make us a national leader again in lots of areas."

Anderson, in issuing the many state-mandated reports over the year, would issue comments with them. For instance, on a report about county finances, she would comment on those counties with fund balances she thought were too large.

"We took all the judgmental language out of the reports," Otto said of her term. "It's not my job to judge, I'm not partisan. What I always tell local officials is this, we're going to put out your information and make sure it's transparent. I'll give media helpful sheets of what's a responsible unreserved fund balance for a county."

If outside the range, she tells local officials they'd better have a policy to determine the appropriate balance and be able to explain it to the media.

"I am not a partisan auditor," Otto said, accusing Anderson of doing so in appointing Sutton as deputy auditor, who oversaw those financial reports.

Otto is traveling Minnesota on a statewide "Excellence Tour" to highlight her results as state auditor.

Four thousand local governments in Minnesota spend $20 billion a year, she said, adding that she wants to leave a legacy in how she's helping it all work.

"I want lasting impact for my work," said Otto, who wrote a report that "helped local governments find the money to make wise investments to reduce energy costs. That's still low-hanging fruit for us in government."

Investments could be the retrofit of a building, installing a wind generator, or simply doihg a lighting audit and retrofit, she said. "If you can reduce those overhead costs, you can put that money back into public safety, repairing streets, highways and bridges, the things that our local governments do; putting teachers in the classroom if its schools."

The effort helped Otto win the National State Auditors Association's Excellence in Accountability Award for 2009. She was also elected to the Executive Committee of the association, putting her in line to be president.

Otto recently helped form and will chair the Collaborative Governance Council, which brings experts from the public and private sectors together to find new ways to collaborate and innovate to produce more efficient government.

"Collaboration is essential in tight times," she said. "It is more efficient and leads to better results for taxpayers."

Otto will shortly convene the Council on Local Results and Innovation, which will set benchmarks for local government services.

"We will be creating performance benchmarks for cities and counties," Otto said. "This is really getting arund service delivery and the public's perception of what they've gotten, are they getting good value. ... You look at your outcomes, and if your outcomes aren't what you want them to be, then you change what you're doing."

While Anderson as state auditor bashed Local Government Aid to cities, Otto says it is an important source of revenue for cities that don't have the tax capacity for essential services.

Otto notes that in 2003, Anderson recommended cutting LGA by 43 percent to help balance the state budget, and classified things such as parks, libraries and public health as non-essential to local communities.

Cutting LGA has driven city property taxes up by 102 percent since then, Otto said. "The state auditor oversees local community finances, not the state's budget deficit. Dumping the state's fiscal mess onto property taxes is not the solution and her pushing for LGA cuts cost us all."

Meanwhile, city spending over the last 10 years has declined 6.7 percent, she said.

Otto also notes that her office has conducted three times as many investigations as did Anderson.

"I don't need the headlines and I don't need to raise my political profile," Otto said. "I need to get the good work done and I don't always get credit for it, but I don't care. If I know I've left a legacy for the state and I've left it in better shape in terms of community by community, I'll feel really good.

"That's my job," she said.

bswenson@bemidjipioneer.com

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