TOWN OF LINN — Two state lawmakers are thrusting themselves into a local political squabble and urging town officials to conduct an audit in the midst of a contested race for town chairman.
State Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, and state Rep. Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva, both signed a letter calling for an audit of the town’s clerk/treasurer after being contacted by Linn town residents who have questioned budgeting and spending practices in the town.
Among those raising questions is Craig DeYoung, who is campaigning in the April 2 municipal election in his second attempt to unseat Town Chairman Jim Weiss. Another is Kathryn Leith, a past Weiss critic who is running for a seat on the town board April 2.
The group has demanded, among other things, that the town conduct an audit of the clerk/treasurer position, which is being divided into two positions in the spring.
Nass and August sent their letter, dated March 4, addressed to Weiss and to members of the town board.
“It would be a reassuring step for residents,” the state lawmakers wrote, “if the town board sought the completion of the statutorily required audit.”
The clerk/treasurer position is one of several issues that local critics have raised in recent months, with one of them calling for “a complete forensic audit” for town spending and budgeting issues.
Weiss, who is seeking re-election in the race with DeYoung, has defended the town’s money management.
Of their decision to step into the local matter, Nass and August wrote: “Based on the number of inquiries and the detailed information shared by some of the Linn residents, we must admit there seems to be some reasonable apprehension surrounding the financial procedures of the township.”
Weiss declined to comment on the letter, but he organized a presentation at a March 11 board meeting, in which town attorney James Duquette and town auditor Pat Romenesko addressed the audit demand.
Referencing the language in state law, Duquette argued that the statutes do not require an annual audit of the clerk/treasurer position — only of the town’s financial records.
“Should the town have had an audit of the town’s financial records? Yes. Did the town? Yes,” Duquette said. “That’s what the town has done, for at least as many years as I’ve been able to look back and verify.”
DeYoung seemed unconvinced by the response.
“A lot of this, to me, feels like smoke and mirrors,” he said.
Representatives from August’s office said that the state representative would not comment on his decision to get involved in the Linn town issues.
Nass chief of state Mike Mikalsen said inquiries from constituents in Linn started last fall, first with vague concerns but then growing more specific.
Mikalsen said small municipalities can understandably have trouble complying with accepted accounting standards due to their relatively small number of employees.
He also said that if Linn town official complete the special audit being requested, Nass and Linn could get a clearer picture of the town’s finances and respond more thoroughly to the concerned constituents.
“There is a set of particularly vocal citizens who have raised much larger concerns,” Mikalsen said. “But we don’t have the background yet to comment on those issues.”
Asked if the state lawmakers believed the constituent complaints were politically motivated, Mikalsen said they did not.