With mid-term elections less than three weeks away, political candidates for Tazewell county clerk and county coroner are making their final pitch to voters.

When they go to the polls Nov. 6, Tazewell County voters will face two decisions: Who should fill the offices of county clerk and county coroner? The county clerk race will pit Democrat Brittany Miller against Republican John C. Ackerman, while Democrat Chuck Friend will contend with Republican Charlie Hanley for the county coroner position.

A lack of political experience is often seen as detrimental in a candidate for public office. But Miller believes the fact she is new to politics may give her an advantage, because she will bring a fresh perspective to county government that a more experienced politician may lack.

“While I appreciate the support of members of my party, I am proud that I have worked to reach all voters, not just those in my party,” she said. “It is imperative that a county clerk work with everyone and leave their party affiliation at the door. My education and professional career have given me the baseline in helping and making processes and information work for the people that I serve.”

Miller added that her education and professional experience would make her a county clerk who serves all Tazewell County voters and citizens. She has worked both as a teacher and a social worker, jobs she believes have allowed her to develop her leadership skills and trained her in educating and empowering individuals. 

“I know how to collaborate and build consensus with peers,” she said. “My casework experience has allowed me to work with local law enforcement and court personnel, state agencies, service providers, and provide timely information.”

Having spent most of her campaign seeking out conversations with and feedback from Tazewell County citizens, Miller has reached the conclusion that voters are not looking for dramatic change in the county clerk’s office. Rather, they seek an assurance that the office will continue to be run with the integrity and fiscal responsibility that they have come to expect.  

“It is not the job of an elected official to tell citizens what they need,” she said. “Rather, an elected official should listen to those that they serve. Based on the conversations that I have had with the citizens of Tazewell County, my areas of focus will be maintaining the integrity of the office and the processes that it oversees, ensuring transparency at the county level through access to information, and engaging young voters in the civic process. Specifically, I will work to recruit and train more election judges, increase the social media presence of the office, offer a ‘Clerk in the Classroom’ program to high schools throughout the county, and continuously solicit feedback from the citizens that the office serves.”  

In contrast to political newcomer Miller, Ackerman has served as a member of the Washington City Council from 1999 to 2002 and as a Tazewell County Board member from 2002 to 2006 and from 2008 to 2014. He was also the Republican candidate for Tazewell County Recorder of Deeds in 2000 and for Tazewell county clerk in 2014.

“In every position I’ve taken, I’ve had (a) list of objectives I’ve wanted to accomplish,” he said. “Once those things had been accomplished, I moved on to the next item. In this case, I thought I’d done as much as I could as a Tazewell County Board member. The next step was Tazewell county clerk.”

During his nine years on the Tazewell County Board, Ackerman worked to increase government transparency by pressing for the establishment of and helping develop a county website. His efforts earned him a 2008 Sunbeam Award for Improving Access to Public Information from the Bloomington Pantagraph. He has also developed a comprehensive strategic plan, he added, to streamline the operations of the county clerk’s office. His plan has been presented to and endorsed by the Illinois Policy Institute. 

“Part of streamlining the operation of the office is maximizing the equipment that’s already in place,” said Ackerman. “Basically, it’s like the county has a remote control. It’s fancy and it has a lot of buttons, but all we’re using is the on-off button. That’s not maximizing the use of that piece of equipment. We can do better than on and off and that’s what most of my ideas are. They’re not rocket science: They’re initiatives that have already been taken in other counties and have proven to be successful there.”

Hanley said his 22 years of experience as a funeral director and embalmer would make him a coroner who would serve the people of Tazewell County with compassion and professionalism.

“Having been raised above a funeral home, I was exposed to death at an early age,” he said. “I began helping my father with body removals at the age of 14, when I started high school. I was taught by my parents how to compassionately help grieving families with great care and concern. I have handled and embalmed hundreds of deaths. Many of these deaths were due to homicide, suicide or accidental. I have prepared numerous deaths after forensic autopsy and/or donation with organ and tissue. I have guided families through a death from removal, funeral arranging, services and final disposition, and in follow up after the funeral process.”

Hanley said that out of 102 counties throughout Illinois, 46 have funeral directors serving as coroner. Funeral director Robert Haller served as Tazewell County coroner from 1976 to 1996, and several other area funeral directors have served the county as chief deputy coroners. Key issues he plans to address if elected are youth education and fiscal responsibility.

“I have handled many unnecessary deaths of younger people due to drug and alcohol use and would work to advocate educating our youth about these dangers,” said Hanley. “I would accomplish this by working with area educators, clergy and other groups. I would bring common sense cost controls to the office. I have several ideas that I would soon implement. As a small business owner, I am familiar with small business accounting, budgeting, and staff management and I could operate it as such. In reality, the coroner’s office is its own small business within the county structure.”

Unlike Hanley, Friend has never worked as a funeral director. But his 29 years as a Tazewell County sheriff’s deputy have given him extensive experience with homicide and suicide cases.

“I’ve been at a lot of fatalities as one of the first responders,” he said. “I think that and my education in science give me a strong foundation. I’ve always served the people of Tazewell County and that’s what I want to do as coroner. My dad used to say, ‘the best things you can do in life are things you do for others.’ That’s my mission statement.”

Friend’s track record as a friend of Tazewell County include service as a caseworker with Illinois Strong and the American Red Cross after the 2013 tornado that ravaged central Illinois. As coroner, he would explore the possibility of holding more inquests, in which a jury would convene to determine the cause of a suspicious death. As a sheriff’s deputy, he testified and presented evidence at past inquests and believes they can be a valuable investigatory resource.

“Past coroners, to my understanding, didn’t have them and didn’t believe in them,” he said. “An inquest is just finding the facts. I’m not saying every case should involve one, but I’m not closing the door to holding them if they’re justified.”

Polls throughout Illinois open at 6 a.m. Nov. 6 and close at 7 p.m. For more information, visit www.tazewell.com.