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Commodity councils will be audited

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 05/28/2013 8:05 AM

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ST. PAUL — The Office of the Legislative Auditor will start evaluating the state's 13 commodity councils in mid- to late-June.

The evaluation will include an examination of the role of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture in the checkoffs, the process of collecting checkoff fees and council activities, said Judy Randall, project manager at the Office of the Legislative Auditor.

The evaluation was approved by the Legislative Audit Commission in April. The commission is comprised of six senators and six House members. Membership is divided equally between majority and minority parties.

The commission is chaired by Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, and Rep. Michael Beard, R-Shakopee. It is the first time the commodity councils have been audited by the Office of the Legislative Auditor.

Each year, the Legislative Audit Commission selects topics for the Office of the Legislative Auditor to review. This year, the commission sorted through 117 suggestions that were narrowed to 17 by the commission's evaluation subcommittee of three senators and three representatives.

The full commission approved the slate of topics on April 17. The topics:

• Administration of Unclaimed Property

• Agricultural Commodity Councils

• Councils of Color

• Forest Management

• Managed Care Organizations' Administrative Expenses

• Medical Services in State Correctional Facilities

• MnDOT Noise Barrier Policy

• MnDOT Pavement Selection Process

• State Employee Union "Fair Share" Calculations

Randall said there was a lot of resistance to the office doing an audit of commodity councils. That is unusual, she said.

Marty Amundson, executive director of the Minnesota Corn Research and Promotion Council, wrote a letter to lawmakers on the commission asking why his organization and other commodity councils were being considered.

"Surely there is a better use of taxpayer dollars to find real problems in government instead of focusing on farmer-led and farmer-funded organizations that are complying with the rules," Amundson wrote.

Some questioned if the Office of the Legislative Auditor had the authority to evaluate the commodity councils.

They do, Randall said, citing Minnesota Statute 17.54, that deals with the creation of research and promotion councils, and Minnesota Statute 3.971, subdivision four, that gives the legislative auditor the authority to perform duties "prescribed by rule of the Legislature or either body of it or by the commission."

There are separate commodity councils in Minnesota for barley, beef, canola, corn, dairy, dry beans, potatoes, soybeans, sunflowers, turkey, wheat and wild rice. Potatoes have two councils.

Councils are governed by commodity councils and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture oversees councils' contracts and elections.

Randall said farmers may be contacted for their thoughts on commodity checkoffs as the evaluation proceeds.

She is hopeful the report will be finished by the end of the year. Results will be presented to the Legislature next session and will also be available to the public at the Office of the Legislative Auditor website. Printed copies will also be available upon request.