New Crop of Auditor Candidates Seek to Replace Fabri
Champaign County citizens will choose an auditor next year in the March primaries and the November election, and at least four candidates have been collecting petition signatures to get on the ballot.
The auditor's office has been a controversial one in Champaign County. A referendum to eliminate the office as an elected post was on the ballot last April --- voters turned it down, by a vote of 57 percent to 43 percent. The question was put on the ballot, after News-Gazette reports in 2009 that analyzed phone and email records to conclude that current auditor Tony Fabri spent little time at the auditor's office.
In response, Fabri said he is a full-time auditor, even if he is not always at work. Fabri resigned his chairmanship in the Champaign County Democratic Party so he could devote more time to the auditor's job. And, as his first full term draws to a close, the controversy has brought out other candidates for auditor, who have joined the chorus of Fabri's critics.
John Farney of Urbana, the only declared Republican candidate, works in the county clerk's office. He is a GOP precinct committee member, who ran unsuccessfully for a Champaign County Board seat in 2006. Farney said Fabri doesn't stack up to Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing, who won a close election 35 years ago to become the first in an unbroken string of Democratic Champaign County auditors.
"I remember if you wanted to see Republicans on the county board pulling their hair out and red-faced, it was because Laurel Prussing was questioning the way they did things," Farney said. "That's what we need in the auditor's office, somebody that's willing to go out and ask those questions and make people defend the way they're spending the taxpayer's money."
Farney said he would draw on his experience in the county clerk's office, and his prior experience as a newspaper reporter to make sure he gets the answers he needs about county finances.
Farney may have the least experience with numbers and finances of all the declared candidates for auditor.
But none of the candidates claim they would do the actual auditing if elected. Democrat George Danos of Champaign, whose financial background includes jobs in the healthcare and insurance industries, said he would work to make sure county government is fiscally responsible, based on the recommendations of his staff.
"They're there 8-to-5, crunching numbers," Danos said. "When issues come up, that are political in nature, or involve a conflict of interest, that is the duty of the county auditor, to engage in collaboration or confrontation along those lines."
When Republicans dominated Champaign County government, it was easier for a Democratic auditor to say they would protect the county from the other party's fiscal mistakes. But with more Democrats in county government today, the current candidates all say party affiliation doesn't define them.
Ben Carlson of Champaign is a self-described conservative Democrat who works in the insurance industry.
"No party affiliation should be where the auditor's at. It's not about whether I'm a Democrat or a Republican," Carlson said. "It's about working together with the other county board members and the team in the office, as well as in the county."
Another issue the auditor candidates come together on is the need for greater public transparency. One popular idea is putting county financial records online. Democrat Kevin Sandefur of Royal said he wants to put information online that is easy for people to search through and understand.
"You don't want to be creating extra work for the people in the auditor's office," Sandefur said. "They already are doing an outstanding job under the circumstances. But I think that if you had somebody who actually showed up for work, then they would be able to pick up some of that slack, in terms of making the information available to the public."
In an email to Illinois Public Media earlier this month, current auditor Tony Fabri said he did not yet have a "solid answer" on whether he'll seek re-election. If Fabri decides to run for auditor again, it is not too late. The window for submitting ballot petitions to the county clerk for the March primary is Nov. 28 through Dec. 5.