In this Dec. 6, 2018, file photo, then-Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap oversees the recounting of ballots in the state's 2nd Congressional District, in Augusta, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

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Matt Dunlap is no longer state auditor. He never should have been.

We’ve got nothing against the former Maine secretary of state, who we found to be open, accessible and detail-oriented in his previous role. But we do subscribe to the notion that public officials should be qualified for the offices they hold.

In some cases, “qualified” might be tricky to define. Different people value different experiences in choosing who to vote for, as an example.

In other cases, however, the set qualifications for a position are crystal clear. Like for the role of Maine state auditor.  

Maine law states it plainly: “The State Auditor must be a certified public accountant or a college graduate with not less than 6 years of experience as a professional accountant or auditor, including not less than 5 years of auditing experience, of which not less than 4 years must have been in a supervisory capacity.”

Dunlap, a Democrat, didn’t meet those requirements when the Democratic-controlled Legislature chose him for the position in December. He was, in his own words at the time, “utterly unqualified” for the job.

Now, state law also allows for cases where the auditor isn’t qualified, and gives them nine months to pass exams needed to become a certified public accountant, certified information systems auditor or certified internal auditor. As Dunlap explained in a recent letter to Maine Senate President Troy Jackson, also a Democrat, Dunlap has failed to secure a certification for internal auditor within those nine months.

In the letter, Dunlap outlined his efforts to enlist the help of a tutor and take a financial accounting course, difficulties scheduling some of his tests, and how he passed one of those tests but failed two others despite coming “agonizingly close” to passing.

“I present this narrative to you to explain my circumstances and not to make excuses for them,” Dunlap said in the letter, noting that Deputy State Auditor Melissa Perkins will be in charge of the office in the interim. “While I could convey much about what I’ve learned about the maturation of the role of the internal auditor over the last thirty years and the vertical effort needed to meet the requirements of the law, those are only superficial to the situation; I knew the rules going in and have done my best to meet those standards.”

In keeping with our past experience with him, Dunlap’s letter was detailed and thorough. We wish the Legislature had the same attention to detail when selecting him as auditor. The fact that he was unqualified for the job was no small detail. It should have been reason enough at the time to select someone already qualified for the role.

Moving forward, the Maine Senate will need to confirm a new state auditor. Asked if Jackson would think about renominating Dunlap should he become qualified, Jackson spokesperson Christine Kirby said the Senate president “isn’t ruling anything out.” Jackson is reviewing the law and working to understand his options moving forward, Kirby said.

Generally, when making a decision like this, members of the Legislature should be ruling out people who are literally unqualified. And while we’re on the subject, we’ll once again point out that the Legislature shouldn’t be filling these positions in the first place.

Along with the positions of attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer, the auditor is one of four positions currently chosen by the Legislature that should instead be chosen directly by voters. This situation involving Dunlap is just one example of how the current system often leads to political insiders from the party in power filling these roles. Having the public elect these officers could bring more transparency and accountability to the process.

Again, we don’t have anything against Matt Dunlap. But we do have something against a system that often prioritizes political connections ahead of qualifications.

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Opinion Editor Susan Young, Deputy Opinion Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked for the BDN...