Even in this age of polarized politics, there’s a solution readily agreed to by Minnesota lawmakers of both parties when grappling with particularly thorny problem: “Let’s get Jim Nobles on the case.’’
For 30 years, Nobles has led the state’s version of the federal Government Accountability Office — the Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA). While it’s not a household name across the state, the OLA’s outstanding body of work — clear, complete and nonpartisan evaluations of everything from the state’s Sex Offender Program to data breaches to conservation easements — has made it one of the state’s most widely respected institutions.
So it was welcome news late last week that Nobles, 66, has been appointed to a sixth six-year term as the legislative auditor. On Friday, the Legislative Audit Commission, which oversees the office, unanimously approved having the firm-but-fair-minded Nobles continue on at the OLA’s helm. (We suspect that Nobles’ staff, if asked to vote, would have unanimously approved another six years for their well-liked boss, too.)
Nobles will be the first to credit the OLA’s sterling reputation to the 59 auditors, investigators and support staff who work there. At the same time, his own work ethic, courtly manner and quiet fearlessness when it comes to asking hard questions are key reasons his office’s reports are looked to as the definitive word on issues it’s asked to tackle.
His long tenure is a testament not only to his personal integrity but to his shrewdness as well. When blunt assessments of inefficient programs or bad decisions lead to ire, Nobles rarely if ever loses his cool. He also picks his battles smartly, coming down unwaveringly on the side of government accountability. Because of that, even those who have disagreed with him don’t question his principles or commitment to good governance.
It’s rare to have a state official and agency with a reputation for being such an honest broker of information. Minnesota is fortunate to have had Nobles serve so long — and fortunate that he’s staying on the job.