The Champaign County Treasurer was a low-profile office, until last year. That’s when a backlog of unfinished work led to complaints from both taxpayers and taxing bodies. Now, voters will choose a brand-new county treasurer in a mid-term election.
The two choices on the November 3 ballot are both military veterans. And at a September 9 candidates forum, they both said their military experience will help as they tackle the problems the county treasurer has been facing.
“My experience with budgeting, reconciling, managing accounts and other financial management operations at the federal level have prepared me for assume the responsibilities of the treasurer,” said Democrat Cassandra “C.J.” Johnson at the online forum, which was organized by the League of Women Voters of Champaign County, and co-sponsored by Illinois Public Media.
Johnson is a native, and a relative newcomer to Champaign County, coming here after a career in the Air Force, retiring as a sergeant. (Johnson’s campaign website is here).
The other candidate is Republican Ted Myhre (the name is pronounced like “Meyer”). The Champaign County native served in the Army for four years, and in the Illinois National Guard for two years, also retiring as a sergeant. As a civilian, he volunteers as a firefighter and EMT with the Sadorus Fire Protection District. Since leaving the military, Myhre has held various jobs in teaching, technology and management. His most recent positions were with the of Illinois, the Missouri-based trucking company Carlyn Transport, and Judah Christian in Champaign. (Myhre’s campaign Facebook page is here).
“I know what it’s like to manage funds from the perspective of the public side and the private side,” said Myhre. “I know what it’s like to change and improve a company. And I want to make sure that the voters know that those qualifications are what’s needed to fix this .”
If all this sounds a little dull, it’s partly by design, because the post of Champaign County Treasurer has generated a lot of interest for all the wrong reasons since the last election. Jim Goss, the Republican caucus leader and Finance chair for the Champaign County Board, says problems began soon after Democrat Laurel Prussing was elected treasurer. Prussing is a veteran politican, who served three terms as mayor of Urbana, and four terms as Champaign County auditor. But Goss says during her tenure as county treasurer, accounts went unreconciled, and the county treasurer’s staff fell behind in processing tax payments and distributing funds to local taxing bodies.
“I mean, these taxing bodies that do the right thing and run tight budgets, can’t afford snafus by the treasurer,” said Goss. “They just can’t, because they don’t have that much room in their budget. And you’ve got drainage districts that have had work done and that work has not been paid, because it’s supposed to come through the treasurer. And they’ve not paid vendors.”
Goss’ Democratic counterpart for Finance on the Champaign County Board says Prussing was in a difficult spot. Vice-Chair Stephanie Fortado says key staff members departed around the time Prussing’s term as treasurer was starting. Plus, a new and long-delayed software system for the county treasurer came with a steep learning curve for employees.
“And this was two curve balls at once, new people in there, and new software,” said Fortado. “But I feel like that should have been anticipated, and that there should have been a plan in to get over that hurdle.”
Prussing resigned last January, after just over a year as Champaign County treasurer. But problems continued under interim treasurer Marisol Hughes. Her bid to run for the rest of the term was rejected by Champaign County Democrats. Both parties have slated candidates who are younger and less politically experienced than Prussing (Ted Myhre is an elected village trustee in Sadorus). But they both say they’re ready for the challenge. Cassandra Johnson says she learned during a 22-year Air Force career how to address problems quickly.
“You have to hit the ground running, and be able to get in, fix it, make it work and get out,” said Johnson. “So at the end of the day, that’s what makes me a good candidate for this position.”
And Myhre says he’ll draw on his experience in both military and civilian operations to take on a job he compares to doing engine repair on a moving .
“That backlog is a serious issue, and it’s going to take some time to recover,” said Myhre. “But, we need to definitely address that, while still maintaining operations.”
Myhre issued a call on Monday (along with Republican county auditor candidate Gary Maxwell) for Champaign County to hire an outside firm to conduct a forensic audit of the treasurer’s, and a performance audit of the county auditor’s. Their news release concentrated on blaming Champaign County Democrats for failing to address the treasurer’s problems.
In response, County Executive Darlene Kloeppel said on Monday that she and County Auditor George Danos began meeting with then-treasurer Prussing to address the treasurer’s problems in mid-2019, as soon as they learned of them.
But when reached for comment on Monday, Myhre said he’s actually interested in solving problems, not assigning blame.
“It would be pointless to sit there and say, oh, so-and-so did it, or so-and-so was responsible for this,” said Myhre. “Really, we just want to find out where all the problems are, and then try to solve them.”
At the candidate’s forum, Myhre said his goal was to maintain a low profile by keeping the operations of the county treasurer running smoothly. Johnson said her goal would be the same.
“And when you elect me, I’ll be able to turn it around to where, like my opponent said, you won’t even know my name,” said Johnson.
Not surprisingly, the two Finance leaders on the Champaign County Board each think their party’s candidate is the best choice for treasurer.
Republican Finance Chair Jim Goss points to Ted Myhre’s wide range of experience, especially his years as a business process analyst for the U of I.
Meanwhile, Democrat Stephanie Fortado, the Finance vice-chair, cites Cassandra Johnson’s background in operations for the Air Force, and the skills she developed in cutting government red tape.