PEKIN — Almost two years after they considered and rejected such a possibility, Tazewell County officials again are pondering whether to no longer have an elected auditor.
Not surprisingly, the current occupant of that office isn't sure it's a good idea.
"It would give the County Board and the board chairman and county administration control over everything," Shelly Hranka said. "Our county is very conservative. They want somebody watching."
Hranka, a Republican, was elected last year to replace the retiring Vicki Grashoff, a Democrat. Toward the end of Grashoff's last four-year term, the County Board considered eliminating an elected auditor, based on efficiency and expertise. That effort fizzled.
Peoria County helped reignite it, according to Tazewell County Board Chairman David Zimmerman. Officials in Peoria apparently are considering asking voters if the auditor should be appointed by the County Board instead of elected by the public.
There are 17 Illinois counties that have elected auditors. The auditor last elected in Peoria County, Carol Van Winkle, resigned in December 2016 because of budget-cut frustration. A certified public accountant, Kent Rotherham, was appointed to replace her.
"I don't want anybody to misinterpret why we're doing this, because it's not a reflection on our current auditor or our previous auditor," Zimmerman said about the Tazewell effort. "It's more of we can maybe ensure that we have the right level of credentials and experience in that position.
"(Now) you give that position to the most popular person, who may or may not be the best fit for that job."
A County Board committee has been formed to review the auditor's office. Mike Godar, chairman Mike Harris and Sue Sundell compose the committee. Its first meeting is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Thursday at the County Board office in Pekin.
Prior to Hranka's election, the board modified the auditor's duties and salary, which was cut from $70,000 to $50,000 annually.
A finance director, Craig Peters, was hired to help prepare the county budget. Grashoff had handled that duty. But upon her departure, the board shifted budget responsibility to the office of County Administrator Wendy Ferrill. Peters also inherited both of Grashoff's employees.
The auditor's office still is responsible for reviewing county bills before they're paid.
Hranka's argument now is similar to Grashoff's in 2015. They believe an elected auditor independent of the County Board serves as a better protector of finances and a better buffer against cronyism.
When elected-auditor elimination last was considered, State's Attorney Stewart Umholtz buttressed that view.
"If I was hired by the County Board and found something at the County Board level, it would be easy for them to sweep it under the rug," Hranka said.
"Audits are not about just looking at money. We're also looking at risk. We're supposed to be evaluating policy and procedures."
Zimmerman said he also is concerned about an auditor's independence. Were the auditor to be appointed, that position might be accountable to a three-person panel, Zimmerman suggested. It might include the board finance-committee chair and a state's attorney appointee.
To be placed on the ballot, elected-auditor elimination would have to clear Harris' committee and the board executive committee, according to Zimmerman. Then the full County Board would have to approve.
Zimmerman said he doesn't know how much board support the proposal has. If support is sufficient, the question could be asked of voters in the March 2018 primary or November 2018 general election, perhaps in conjunction with an identical item in Peoria County.
"Voters may look at this and say, 'Why does the County Board want to get rid of an elected auditor? Are they up to some games?'" Zimmerman said. "That's not what we want to communicate."