Three elected offices in Champaign County government would be changed to appointed ones — and a fourth office would be scaled back — under a proposal unveiled Thursday by a group of Champaign County Republicans.
Champaign County’s elected recorder would become an appointed post, and the elected treasurer and auditor would be merged, along with some county budget offices, to an county financial officer, under the GOP plan.
In addition, the elected County Executive who would make the appointments would be cut to a part-time position, augmented by the revival of the county administrator’s position (this would also be appointed).
Champaign County Recorder Mark Shelden says the goal is to remove partisanship from the selection of candidates for essentially non-political jobs.
“As Republicans, our number one commitment is to good government. This is a good government proposal,” said Shelden. “This is a proposal that promises the citizens of Champaign County That we’re going to put professionalism and service ahead of partisan considerations.”
Shelden unveiled the plan at a news conference held at the new Champaign County Republican headquarters, the former Hooters restaurant on South State Street. He was joined by other Republicans supporting the reform plan: county auditor candidate Gary Maxwell, county treasurer candidate Ted Myhre, county board GOP caucus leader Jim Goss (Mahomet-Dis. 1), county board member Jon Rector (Champaign-Dis. 5) and District 10 county board candidate Mike Kobel.
Shelden tied the proposal to problems he says cropped up in some Champaign county offices after the 2018 election. Democrats won several county offices previously held by Republicans in that election, including clerk, sheriff, treasurer and auditor.
“I think the public, when they see the problems that have come about with the Democratic-run offices in Champaign County, one of the reactions that is happening out there right now is, if we were hiring somebody instead of putting people through a political process, the quality of people that would have been brought in would have been better,” said Shelden. However, he denied that Republicans were making the proposal because their election losses to Democrats.
Meanwhile, Champaign County Democrats, who learned of the proposal later in the day, were not won over.
County Board Democratic caucus leader Steve Summers pushed back on Republican claims that some Democrats elected in 2018 holders had performed poorly. He defended Democrat Laurel Prussing, who resigned as county treasurer after one year in the position, amid reports of work backlogs and other problems. Summer said Prussing had to deal with staff losses over which she had no control. Overeall, he says he doesn’t think switching elected positions to appointed ones would solve any problems for Champaign County government.
“No, I don’t think so,” said Summers. “I think the concept of having voters elect who they would like to have serve them is pretty much a basic tenet of democracy. I think most voters would go along with that.”
Democrats had particular criticism for the GOP proposal to combine county finance positions to create an appointed county financial officer. The proposal would require state legislative approval (Shelden says some lawmakers have been approached about the idea).
County board member Kyle Patterson (D-Dis. 7) says merging the offices into one would bring together financial functions that are usually kept apart to prevent corruption.
“You know, most offices, the person who prints the check is not the person who signs the check,” said Patterson. “And the person who approves the payments is not the person who prints the check. And you have to have that sort of separation when it comes to finances.”
Democrats also noted the proposal to move to a part-time county executive. The change, which could be done with a county board vote, was one that they said seemed to be a reversal of previous Republican support for the office.
“The only reason we have a county executive is because the Republicans pushed for it,” said County Board member Stephanie Fortado (D-Champaign-Dis. 8), referring to the 2016 referendum that established the office in Champaign County government.
And Democrats said that while Shelden was now supporting making his Recorder of Deeds office an appointed one, they (and Shelden’s Democratic challenger for recorder, Mike Ingram), had long supported eliminating an elected recorder in a different way, by merging the office with that of the county clerk. Shelden specifically opposes that idea, saying the office needs the attention of a full-time recorder. Changing the recorder from elected to appointed would require the approval of a referendum by Champaign County voters.