If Meyer preaches frugality, he also needs to practice it

It’s hardly a secret that Morrison County Commissioner Don Meyer of Pierz is no favorite among the permanent bureaucracy that runs the County Government Center.

Popular enough among his constituents; he has served as their representative on the county board for more than 21 years. Meyer  tends to rant from time to time at the public employees, trying to hold down what is commonly called by politicians of all stripes, “wasteful government spending.”

Thus, it’s unsurprising that the courthouse has many happy faces these days because it appears that Meyer may not be squeaky clean with the public’s money himself.

He has been accused in a report from the Office of the State Auditor (OSA) of taking per diems for the same meeting from both the county and from the South Country Health Alliance (SCHA), a 12-county conglomeration created to help hold down health care costs.

Wisely, Morrison County Attorney Brian Middendorf shipped the case off to the Sherburne County Attorney’s Office to determine if anything criminal has occurred. That was smart because the report from the OSA does not accuse Meyer of criminality. Rather, it offers eight recommendations on how the county might change its policies to ensure that all per diems are legally authorized. We encourage citizens to wait for the findings from Sherburne County before passing final judgement on Meyer.

Regardless, some background is needed for citizens to understand what happened.

Morrison County commissioners receive an annual salary of $21,328. It’s a part-time job, but it’s also an open-ended job, which means that a conscientious commissioner can almost claim that it is full-time given that he is on-call from the public 24/7, and that any commissioner pulling his weight goes to dozens of meetings on county business beyond the commissioner meetings.

In an attempt to be fair to those commissioners who work at the job harder than others, commissioners also receive a per diem from the county of $55 for each day they attend a meeting on county business. It’s the county’s policy that only one per diem shall be paid per day to a commissioner, even if he goes to more than one meeting.

However, the SCHA also pays a per diem — $125 per meeting. The OSA did not even determine if the SCHA had separate legal authorization to pay per diems. On two occasions, Meyer accepted both a county and an SCHA per diem for the same meeting. In addition, the county paid him 34 per diems for attending county-related meetings on the same day he claimed an SCHA meeting. It’s up to Sherburne County to determine if the one per diem per day limit includes payments from other legal entities like the SCHA.

In addition, 28 times Meyer claimed per diems from the county for the day before the SCHA Board met. The SCHA is headquartered in Owatonna, which the State Highway Map says is 160 miles from Little Falls. Meyer claimed 380 miles round-trip from his home.

We don’t blame him for wanting to go down a day early; it’s a 3.5 hour drive. He is reimbursed for his hotel and meals, but the question is whether driving to Owatonna by itself legally qualifies for per diem.

As we said, we’re willing to wait for the ruling from Sherburne County to determine if Meyer did something criminal, is only guilty of sloppy bookkeeping, or got caught up in vague rule making by the county and SCHA. Regardless, as the chief preacher of frugality on the board, Meyer needs to keep himself beyond reproach, and, from what we know so far, he hasn’t done that.