MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A top state Republican leader is calling for Minnesota House hearings into the actions of the Democratic state auditor.

This is after a WCCO investigation discovered county auditors who accuse State Auditor Rebecca Otto of pressuring them into long-term audit contracts with her office, even though a new state law allows them to hire private audit firms starting next year.

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The letter directs 59 Minnesota counties to sign a three-year contract with the state auditor.

County auditors say they are perplexed by the letter, which they say came without warning, and has a deadline of Aug. 21, 2015 to sign.

“It’s hard not to think that this doesn’t have something to do with the legislative change that was made where counties can choose their own auditors,” Lac qui Parle County Auditor Jake Sieg said.

Chisago County officials were also surprised by the auditor’s demand. They would like to consider a less-expensive private audit firm next year instead of the state auditor’s office.

“It’s weird,” Chisago County Administrator Bruce Messelt said. “We don’t feel quite that the state auditor is being a partner that you sit down and you negotiate with. We kind of feel like it’s maybe a negotiation by shotgun.”

Otto says her only goal is “consistency and efficiency,” and that it is not a political strategy — even though the legislature stripped her office of many audit duties.

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“I had my legal staff review what we’re doing, and we are acting consistent with Minnesota law,” Otto said.

But top Republican lawmakers say the Democratic auditor is playing politics.

“I think it’s a slap in the face to the legislature,” Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, said.

Anderson, who is the chair of the House State Government Finance Committee, has notified county auditors they are not required to sign any contract and is calling for legislative hearings into the auditor’s actions.

“This I think is just really using her power in an inappropriate way to bully the counties,” Anderson said. “It tells me that she is sending a message to these counties: ‘Sign this letter or else.'”

Chisago and Lac qui Parle county officials say they are considering using a private audit firm next year, but have not ruled out a one-year contract with the state auditor.

“Our hope is that it’s a negotiation,” Messelt said. “Our fear is that it’s a negotiation by threat.”

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Otto says the three-year cycle allows for efficiency, consistency and planning for both her staff and county staffs.