PEKIN — Each candidate in the Republican primary for Tazewell County clerk appears to be taking a different approach to the future of that office.
Or in one candidate’s case, a different approach to the future of her current, different office.
John Ackerman, Brett Grimm and Shelly Hranka are running to succeed Christie Webb, a Democrat who is retiring after 24 years and six terms.
Ackerman is a former Tazewell County Board member, Grimm a current one. Hranka is county auditor; she’s been in that position a little more than a year.
The board pared the auditor’s duties and salary prior to Hranka’s election in 2016 and is considering asking voters if the position should be appointed rather than subject to public ballot. Hranka contends the duty reductions are illegal.
In her pursuit of the clerk position, Hranka has cited her leadership abilities and a desire to make the office more transparent. But she also has made a curious claim about how the clerk’s job might relate to her current one.
“I feel that if I could possibly win this position, I’ll be able to advocate for the auditor’s position in a different direction,” said Hranka, a 48-year-old Groveland resident. “I feel like I’ve thrown everything at it, and every direction I’ve gone, I’ve hit a brick wall.”
The clerk’s primary duties include responsibility for county elections, board minutes and vital statistics. As recorder of deeds, the office also handles real-estate transactions and liens.
“The thing is, you take care of your customer, you never throw your employees under the bus, and you make sure that everybody’s happy in the long run,” Hranka said about how she’d operate the office. “Customer service is No. 1.”
The primary election is March 20. In the general election, the Republican winner is to face Washington resident Brittany Miller, who is unopposed for the Democratic nomination.
Webb is the only Democrat who occupies an executive, elected office in Tazewell County.
Ackerman was the GOP standard-bearer in 2014 against Webb, who ran unopposed in her other general re-election campaigns. Ackerman won about 45 percent of the vote.
That election was contentious on occasion. Technological and other improvements in the clerk’s office were overdue, Ackerman argued. Webb believed some of Ackerman’s criticisms were unfair.
“It’s been a great office at meeting expectations, but not at exceeding expectations,” Ackerman said recently. “For too long, we’ve had one incumbent that never was challenged. I think the voters took a look at that and said, ‘You know, there are things that could be done differently.’”
A multi-point strategic plan was part of Ackerman’s campaign then, and it is again. The 39-year-old public-relations consultant from Washington cited best practices in Illinois counties with similar populations, including Champaign and McLean.
Ackerman has called for posting more public information to the county website, more rapid reporting of election results and improved intra-office cross-training and efficiency. He said most of these goals can be accomplished without spending additional money.
“Four years later, those things still need to be done,” Ackerman said. “(The plan) outlines how we’ll go about not just fantasizing about improvements but showing how they can be fully implemented and the successes that they’ve had in other counties.”
For the past nine years, the County Board has been Grimm’s focus. The 40-year-old Morton resident is chairman of the board’s property committee.
Grimm has owned a heating-and-air-conditioning firm, a leasing company and a medical first-aid company. He said his approach to the clerk’s job would be the same as it’s been in his other jobs: cautious.
“You can’t just start changing parts because something is broken,” Grimm said. “You have to figure out what was broken. That’s just part of my personality. I don’t want to just rush in, because … you’re going to have all kinds of unintended consequences.”
Grimm also mentioned ongoing issues with reductions in state funding as a possible concern for the next clerk. On the March ballot in Tazewell County will be a referendum that seeks to increase the property tax rate by 15 cents, about a 30 percent hike.
“This office has statutory jobs,” Grimm said. “I don’t think it needs to grow outside of those. I don’t think it needs to look for new things to do. I think what it needs to do is figure out how to serve the people by doing those jobs the best and most efficient it can.”
Nick Vlahos can be reached at 686-3285 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @VlahosNick.