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Champaign Circuit Clerk, Auditor Candidates Square off in Forum

The League of Women Voters and the NAACP hosted a forum Wednesday night at the Champaign City Building with the Democratic candidates running for Champaign County circuit clerk and auditor in this month's primary.

Each set of candidates was given an hour to answer a series of questions, but they were not allowed to address each other with their responses. The auditor candidates went first.

Just about a year ago, a referendum to eliminate the office of auditor as an elected post was on the ballot. Voters turned it down, by a vote of 57 percent to 43 percent. The auditor's office has been controversial in Champaign County after email and phone records reported by the News Gazette showed current Auditor Tony Fabri spent little time at work.

The Democratic candidates in the race are George Danos, Kevin Sandefur, and Ben Carlson. They say that they want to bring confidence and transparency back to the office.

George Danos, whose financial background includes jobs in the healthcare and insurance industries, said he would concentrate on making sure county government is fiscally responsible.

"The county deserves a veritable watchdog in the office, one zealous about making sure that our tax dollars are well spent," Danos said. "One who is accessible to both the public and party officials."

Kevin Sandefur is an accounting information systems developer. He said if elected, he would see to it that county finance information gets posted online.

"Who else is going to step up and provide the information to the public in a way that is easy enough for them to understand, easy enough for them to obtain in order to provide the accountability and transparency and openness in government that we need?" Sandefur said.

Meanwhile, Ben Carlson, who works in the insurance industry, said he would like to make the office more efficient by updating technology.

"You know, we've got over 25 years of technology in the current office," Carlson said. "Are you going to keep the current accounting system? Are we going to discuss how to improve that?"

Whoever wins the Democratic nomination for auditor will face Deputy County Clerk John Farney in the general election.

Meanwhile, the Democratic candidates for circuit clerk also took part in the forum. With Linda Frank stepping down as Champaign County circuit clerk after nearly 20 years in that post, the three Democrats running for her seat in the March primary are Barb Wysocki, Lori Hansen, and Evelyn Underwood.

During the forum, the candidates agreed that making court information more accessible to the public should be a priority.

Barb Wysocki, who is a former Champaign County Board member, said part of that involves doing a better job training staff on using technology.

"When the same data has to be entered at two or three different points just to get information circulating or moving between offices, that to me is a human problem more than it is perhaps a technological problem," Wysocki said.

Lori Hansen, who is a law librarian for the Champaign County Circuit Court, said she also wants to find ways to improve services through the use of technology. She said computer stations should be installed in the lobby of the courthouse, so that the public can print out forms before a court appearance.

"Access to justice requires access to information, and information is power," Hansen said. "I want to give the information and power to the people who use the circuit clerk's office."

Hansen added that she would like to keep the self-help desk at the courthouse open, which had briefly closed because of budgetary reasons.

Evelyn Underwood, who is a former member of the Urbana Education Association, agreed that maintaining the self-help desk is a good idea. Underwood said she would also like to see more people serve on juries.

"I can't make them serve, but I would like to encourage them to serve on juries," Underwood said. "It will bring about justice if we have more people of color serving on the juries."

The circuit clerk candidate who wins the primary will face off against Republican Stephanie Holderfield, who currently sits on the county board.

The primary election is set for March 20, 2012.

(Photos by Sean Powers/WILL)

Categories: Biography, Government, Politics