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Miller v. Board of Supervisors of Linn County

Court of Appeal of Iowa

November 20, 2013

JOEL MILLER, LINN COUNTY AUDITOR, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
BOARD OF SUPERVISORS OF LINN COUNTY, LU BARRON, LINDA LANGSTON, BEN ROGERS, BRENT OLESON, JAMES M. HOUSER, Defendants-Appellees.

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Linn County, Paul D. Miller, Judge.

Linn County Auditor Joel Miller appeals from the district court's ruling granting the defendants' counterclaim for declaratory judgment and dismissing his petitions for writs of mandamus and certiorari.

Peter C. Riley of Tom Riley Law Firm, P.L.C., Cedar Rapids, for appellant.

Robert A. Hruska, Assistant Linn County Attorney, Civil Division, Cedar Rapids, for appellees.

Heard by Doyle, P.J., and Tabor and Bower, JJ.

DOYLE, P.J.

Linn County Auditor Joel Miller appeals from the district court's ruling granting the defendants' counterclaim for declaratory judgment and dismissing his petitions for writs of mandamus and certiorari. He contends the court erred in several respects, including declaring a county's board of supervisors is the entity that has the authority to authorize and direct the conditions under which claims against the county are audited, not the county auditor. We affirm.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

The relevant facts are generally undisputed. Plaintiff Joel Miller has served as the Linn County Auditor since 2007. Miller testified that the number of persons voting via absentee ballots has increased in recent years, and, as a result, the workload of his office in connection with its election duties has also increased. At the beginning of 2008, Miller's office employed three deputy auditors, including Sue Wold, who had served as a deputy auditor and the deputy commissioner of elections for a number of years.

On February 27, 2008, the Linn County Board of Supervisors (Board) held a formal session. At the session, Miller appeared and discussed with the Board his resolution seeking the Board's approval to add a fourth deputy-auditor position to the auditor's office and to authorize payroll for that position. Miller explained he was "asking the Board to approve an additional [d]eputy position for the purpose of managing personnel associated with the election process, " and he told the Board he wanted to move the voter registration administrator, Tim Box, to the newly created deputy position for Box to "share management of the election services department." Although the Board questioned who would perform Box's duties as the voter registration administrator, the Board approved the resolution to add a fourth deputy-auditor position.

At some point, Miller decided he wanted one of his deputies to conduct internal audits of his office. To that end, Miller revoked Wold's appointment as a deputy auditor and deputy commissioner of elections in December 2009, finding she "did not have the skill set to do internal auditing." On December 15, 2009, Miller sent out an email advising all elected county officials he had revoked Wold's appointment and was seeking a replacement for the deputy-auditor position who could perform duties as an "internal auditor, " in addition to working on elections.

After receiving the email, the Board's chairperson, Linda Langston, had concerns about such a position. She met with Miller in mid-January 2010 to discuss the "internal auditor" position, and she told Miller that, while she was "not inherently opposed to the concept of an internal-auditor position, " she thought there would be problems with placing such a position within the auditor's office. She noted that the political nature of the auditor position could create a situation where a deputy "internal auditor, " serving at the pleasure of the auditor, might be less forthcoming with any potential wrongdoing by the person who appointed him or her. She also told Miller she had spoken informally with CPAs and other persons who perform external audits and learned the oversight of similar auditing positions was generally done by a board of directors. Thus, Langston believed such a position should report to a county's board of supervisors, not to the county's auditor, and therefore should not exist within the auditor's office. Miller asked her if the Board would allow him to try an internal auditing position temporarily and see how it worked out, but Langston told him she "was not interested in that, but [she] would be happy to check with the other Board members."

A few days later, Miller appointed Karen Heiderscheit to fill the open deputy-auditor position, and Heiderscheit was sworn in on January 18, 2010. Heiderscheit had a four-year degree in accounting and had worked in the auditor's office in an accounts-payable position, which fell under a collective bargaining agreement. Miller did not tell Langston or ask the Board to approve Heiderscheit for the position.

Thereafter, Miller learned the Board was going to consider the issue of the number of deputies in his office, and the matter was discussed at the January 25 session of the Board. Langston reported to the Board she had previously met with Miller and had relayed her concerns regarding his intent to have his new deputy conduct internal auditing, and she advised the Board "that if Linn County had an internal auditor position, [it] would best be served with some separation from the office[s] that would have the greatest area of exposure, that being the [offices of the county's auditor and treasurer]." Miller appeared before the Board, disagreeing with Langston's position that an internal auditor should report to the Board. One supervisor noted it was her prior understanding that the fourth deputy-auditor position was created to groom Tim Box "for ...


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