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Koering says he'll decide whether to serve or not after the election

Paul Koering hasn't been actively campaigning for the auditor-treasurer position. Whether Koering will serve if elected remains unclear. He said he's going to have to take a look at it when he sees the election outcome. "I'm going to have to cros...

Crow Wing County Auditor-treasurer candidate Paul Koering talks about his plans if he is elected. (Kelly Humphrey, Brainerd Dispatch)
Crow Wing County Auditor-treasurer candidate Paul Koering talks about his plans if he is elected. (Kelly Humphrey, Brainerd Dispatch)

Paul Koering hasn't been actively campaigning for the auditor-treasurer position.

Whether Koering will serve if elected remains unclear. He said he's going to have to take a look at it when he sees the election outcome. "I'm going to have to cross that bridge when I get to it," he said.

Koering said he wouldn't speculate about the future and what decision he'll make - whether to accept the position or not if he wins.

"I think I have to wait to be in that position," Koering said.

"I'm on the ballot. I'm going to continue on. I'd be honored to have people vote for me. But at this point I want what's best for the county taxpayers and I'm just going to see how the election goes and make a decision on where we will go from there."

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Koering is currently serving his first term as Crow Wing County Commissioner representing the county's southern District 1. Koering is in his second year of a four-year term.

"I want to be in the office where I can have the maximum effect for the county taxpayers in a positive way," he said, including examples of keeping taxes low and providing essential services such as plowing the roads. He acknowledged those are issues before a county commissioner, not an auditor-treasurer.

Koering said he's going to have to look at what happens in the election before making or announcing a decision on serving. He is also considering how the election may alter the current makeup of the county board. Three commissioners are up for re-election and all have challengers.

"I really feel good about the work we've accomplished." Koering said.

If those other commissioner seats change in this election, Koering said that could alter his decision. As for his opponent, Deborah Erickson, Koering said the two are not separated on the issues.

"I don't think there is a huge difference between Deborah Erickson and myself," Koering said. "I feel comfortable if she wins. I think that's a good thing for the county. I can accept whatever the voters decide and then we need to work together to continue to make (government) more efficient and provide services people expect, but do it without raising property taxes."

If Koering is elected auditor-treasurer and decides to serve, the county would have the expense of a special election to fill the two years remaining in his commissioner's term.

The last special election for a commissioner race was in 2007 with the death of Crow Wing County Commissioner John Ferrari.

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Laureen Borden, current auditor-treasurer, reported the cost for that type of special election is about $60,000. If there is a primary, the cost could be $70,000.

"If the vacancy is for a commissioner there must be a special election if the term remaining is more than one year," Borden stated. "If any other office is vacant the commissioners can either appoint or hold a special election. The cost would be more for the election if it were a county wide election."

If there's a vacancy in the auditor-treasurer post, Erickson would be at the top of the list of those who could be appointed to that post because of her experience, Koering said.

"I think she's very qualified and will do a great job," he said. "I think I can do a great job in that office also. I believe I could handle that position very well.

Koering hasn't taken part in voter's guides and isn't campaigning. He didn't put a lot of effort into his primary race for county commissioner two years ago either, running after he said neighbors in the St. Mathias area asked him to do so. But he did campaign after gaining the primary victory. Serving as a commissioner is a role Koering has come to enjoy.

With his father currently in hospice care with cancer, Koering said his focus has been on taking care of him.

"I put the election second and put family first," he said.

If his father hadn't been ill, Koering said he probably would have taken part in voter's guides stating his position.

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Working in his Baxter liquor store on a recent weekday night, Koering greeted customers by name, joked and even shared a photo of himself as a boy on the family farm that a customer recently brought in.

Koering said he should have talked to his opponent, Erickson, more in-depth before he decided to run for auditor-treasurer as they are on the same page for issues and want the same things for the office. Both favor moving from elected office to appointing the position. "I think my opponent has a tremendous amount of experience," Koering said of Erickson. "She certainly has more institutional knowledge ...

"I think I have a lot of experience to run the office the way I think people expect."

Koering owns and operates the Baxter Liquor Mart and Northeast Liquors in Brainerd. The former dairy farmer also operates a funeral motor service, transporting bodies from Crow Wing County to the Ramsey County Medical Examiner's office. Koering will end that service at the end of the year.

Koering served two terms in the state Legislature. In 2002, Koering defeated longtime Sen. Don Samuelson by 138 votes.

The 49-year-old from Fort Ripley, successfully ran for the Crow Wing County Commissioner District 1 seat in 2012 beating incumbent Phil Trusty.

Goals for the office

For main goals in the auditor-treasurer's position, Koering said he wants to continue what is being done.

"I want every office in the county, including the office I'm running for to be customer friendly and customer oriented."

Koering said he wants employees who are attentive, helpful and friendly.

Koering favors appointing the auditor-treasurer instead of electing someone to the position. He said he'd seek special legislation to make that change for the auditor-treasurer and recorder's office.

If asked two years ago if the auditor-treasurer should be appointed or elected, Koering said his answer would have been different. But after two years on the county board, he said he sees the recorder and the auditor-treasurer as administrators with the county board setting all the policies. If elected, Koering said he wants to take a fresh look at what the office is doing - at what's essential and what may be duplicated.

He questions whether the county office needs to provide passports when a half-block away the same service is provided at the U.S. Post Office in Brainerd.

Perhaps, Koering said, not providing the passport service would be a way to eliminate a staff position. It's one of the questions he has without an answer yet. Koering said his goal for the office is to provide robust, focused services to the public with a smaller staff.

As for himself, Koering said he's changed a lot as a person since he was in the Senate. He describes himself now as being less of a politician who worried about every vote and comment and about getting re-elected.

"Now I don't care about that," he said. "I say what's on my mind. I vote with what I know is in my heart to make the right vote. I don't worry about re-election at all."

In fact, Koering said he isn't currently thinking about a second term as county commissioner.

Koering said after losing the Senate seat and what he described as the bad stuff that came along with it - such as the Republican party coming out in favor of an opponent after he revealed he was gay. Koering was the first openly gay Republican to serve in the state Legislature, coming out in 2005. After losing the Republican endorsement for the Senate in 2010, Koering ran as a write-in candidate. He lost in the general election to Paul Gazelka. One of the things he enjoys about the county board is the nonpartisan aspect of it.

Koering said after three campaigns and seven years, he thought his efforts as a conservative with the party would have been appreciated more. It was after the entire experience he said he realized there is a life outside of politics.

"I have a life outside of that. I have a business. I do feel honored to serve as county commissioner. I vote for the people, which is really the most important thing you can do anyway."

As for the immediate future, Koering said:

"I'll see how the election goes as to whether I will serve or not, ultimately I want what's best for the county."

RENEE RICHARDSON, senior reporter, may be reached at 855-5852 or renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Dispatchbizbuzz .

Renee Richardson is managing editor at the Brainerd Dispatch. She joined the Brainerd Dispatch in 1996 after earning her bachelor's degree in mass communications at St. Cloud State University.
Renee Richardson can be reached at renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com or by calling 218-855-5852 or follow her on Twitter @dispatchbizbuzz or Facebook.
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