A decision by the Tazewell County Board Ad-Hoc Auditor Review Committee Monday to recommend that a referendum be placed on the November ballot to make the county auditor’s position a hired position has ignited a fight to preserve an auditor free of the control of the board.
Ad-Hoc Auditor Review Committee Chairman Mike Harris said the committee approved a recommendation to the Human Resources Committee to let the voters decide and drafted a paragraph to send to the Executive Committee.
“Due to the complexity of the position, we’ve decided to place on the ballot a measure to allow the voters to decide to replace the elected auditor’s position with a public accounting official,” read the statement. “We believe that a minimum level of caring, knowledge and experience should be a prerequisite for such a vital position.”
The position is currently held by Shelly Hranka, a first-term auditor. Hranka never held another elected position. She earns $51,500 as auditor.
Hranka said that the county wants control of the internal audits and took the staff she needs to do the statutory work of the office.. The auditors’s office in 2016 under then Auditor Vicki Grasoff was funded at $146,000, said Hranka. She said when she came into office the two employees there had been transferred to the finance department and her budget had been cut to $53,000. She said the office was virtually devoid of any documents when she arrived. Grasoff’s computer had been wiped clean, and the only documents in a file cabinet pertained to labor contracts and other contracts. She said she does not even have full access to the county software.
The statutory responsibilities removed from Hranka, according to her, are purchase orders, accounts payable, inventory and the general ledger.
Tazewell County Board Chairman David Zimmerman said that Grasoff took on duties outside of the statutory requirements while she was in office, and when she opted not to run for office again, the Human Resources Committee went through the office duties line by line and removed the non-statutory work, which included the budget. That’s why the two employees were removed and the budget for the auditor’s office was cut by $93,000, he said.
Zimmerman said Hranka has never come to the board and explained what work she is unable to complete on the budget she is provided.
“We want to help her,” said Zimmerman Tuesday. “We just want to know what she’s not able to get done.
“We want her to succeed. We don’t know what audits are not being done, because she has not come to us and told us.”
Hranka emailed a packet of materials to the Pekin Daily Times that was sent to the full County Board in October 2017 that contained full documentation of work that was not being done because of a lack of staff. It also had a spread showing the funding of other county auditor’s offices around the state. The packet included the state statute regarding the protected activities of the elected auditor. The list of work that is not being done is keyed by letter to the Illinois statute.
Zimmerman said the County did appropriate Hranka funds to hire a part-time worker for $15,000. Hranka had asked for $65,000 to hire a full-time worker in September 2017. The board asked her to submit a compromise and Hranka asked for $45,000. The board ultimately gave her the $15,000. Yet Zimmerman said Hranka had never told the board the details of the needs of the office.
“Has she used the $15,000?” said Zimmerman. “The $15,000 would get her a good portion of the way there.
“Does she need someone to work part-time? The money is there. If it’s not enough — it was ‘try this first.’ If it’s not enough, we can look at adding money. I don’t understand all of the auditing functions.”
Hranka is using the $15,000 for a part-time worker to help with the work load. The worker is a Bradley intern student with background in internal auditing. He will return to school in August, and Hranka will seek a replacement. The student is paid $10 per hour for his work.
Harris said the auditor’s position by statute can be filled by anybody off the street, and the county wants more experience.
“I’m not saying we’ve got bad people, but we want more stability in the job,” said Harris. “We want to know that we have an accounting professional in the job.
“We know some of our audits haven’t been completed. The main job is compliance, and some audits just haven’t been completed over the years. It’s not against the person that’s on the job, it’s the knowledge to do the audit. We can’t guarantee consistent qualifications in the job through the process that we have. We would like to bring in talent that can do it, can see it. Anybody can come on the job and learn it, but we want our auditor to have a CIA, Certified Internal Auditor.”
The county is not seeking professionals in other elected posts. Hranka said under statute, the sheriff, coroner and others are not required to have experience in the field pertaining to the position they are running for. She said the board allows her only $2,000 for continuing education even though she is required to do 20 hours per year.
Hranka said her job is to protect taxpayer money. She said she does not work for the County Board.
“I’m a watch dog for the taxpayers,” she said. If this can happen with the state statutes protecting an elected officer, what happens when the auditor is an employee of the County Board?”
Zimmerman said a committee will be appointed of County Board members and community members. The auditor will report to them and “It will be as independent as the other 85 counties that have their (internal) audits done this way.”
The committee recommended ballot question is, “Shall Tazewell County replace the elected auditor’s position with an appointed auditing professional.”
Harris said the committee checked all of the surrounding counties and found that Tazewell County’s salary for auditor “may be a little bit on the low side, but we don’t have the dollars to be up there with the top ones.”
The Board Executive Committee will consider the recommendation at 4 p.m. on June 20. That committee’s recommendation will then go to the full Tazewell County Board at 6 p.m. on June 27.