John Farney isn't the Champaign County auditor yet, but he already has one major accomplishment: getting retiring auditor Tony Fabri to come into the office for a while last week.
Fabri, who became auditor in 2007 but is infamous for staying away from the office for much of the last four years, chose not to run for reelection this year.
And he's remained scarce, according to county officials and employees at the Brookens Administrative Center. One said he hadn't been seen since the July 31 retirement party for Carol Wadleigh, the longtime chief deputy auditor. He hasn't been to a county department heads meeting for more than two years and it's been months since he attended a county board meeting, where his absences have become a running joke.
But Fabri met twice last week with Farney, the Urbana Republican who defeated Democrat George Danos, 51.5 percent to 48.5 percent (or unofficially, by 2,122 votes), on Nov. 6.
"He approached me about the transition and he sent me a real nice email the day after the election and got the ball rolling," Farney said. "He looked good. He has a beard. The last time I saw him was in May."
There was no talk about Fabri's absences, said Farney, who takes over as auditor on Dec. 1. He'll make $86,328 a year, plus a $6,500 state stipend.
"We met privately for two hours on Monday. It was a very good meeting," he said. "And on Tuesday we met with the staff in the office for an hour, an hour and a half. Mister Fabri has been nothing but helpful."
Farney said they talked about transition issues, such as the office's budget and staffing, including the so-far unsuccessful attempt to find a replacement for Wadleigh.
"He's been very gracious about letting me start advertising for the chief deputy position. He offered some insight about when they advertised for it over the summer and the process they went through and why they didn't end up hiring someone," Farney said, explaining that the person chosen for the post ended up taking another job.
Farney said he doesn't anticipate problems taking over the relatively small office, although "it's appearing to me to be a bigger challenge to hire a chief deputy than I thought it would be, only because here at the end of the year a lot of tax professionals and accountants are deep in their own work already and might not want to leave somebody in the lurch."
Wadleigh, he said, has agreed to come back "and assist us on a consulting basis to get through the end of the year stuff so that we can get the new chief deputy into the office and get them up to speed."
It's not clear how much Wadleigh's successor will make.
"I'd like to be able to pay the person more because the market demands it. That will be a challenge," Farney said. "But there are benefits to working in the public sector as far as the hours, and we're the only pension fund (the well-funded IMRF) that isn't in the news all the time, and the health insurance, you can't beat it. There are tradeoffs between that and the private sector."
The salary range, he said, "is anywhere from $55,000 on up. We know that in order to get top-notch candidates, the bottom end that's authorized is not going to be where we're looking."
Wadleigh was paid at an annual rate of $86,146 for her last year.
"But she had been a CPA and she had been there 32 years and worked her way through," said Farney.
County policy is that the chief deputy should be a CPA, "but it's not written in the statute. It's my preference that it be a CPA. And it's also my preference that it's someone with government accounting experience," said Farney.
One of his goals, he said, is to have the office regain its annual award for Excellence in Reporting by the Government Finance Officers Association.
"It's a goal that I like to have. We're kinda behind the 8-ball this year with the end of the year reports due and a new guy coming in and no chief deputy and things, but we're going to try to get up to that," he said. "I certainly don't mind putting in the hours to get it back. I told my wife early on that there won't be any trips over Christmas or anything like that. I'm going to have to be at work because this is our crunch time, the way our fiscal year is set up."
That's another item Farney plans to review: revising the county's fiscal year so it ends on Dec. 31 instead of Nov. 30. But that would require approval by the county board.
Election Day as a federal holiday.
Cameron Blaydes, a 21-year-old University of Illinois senior from Vernon Hills, has an online petition at the whitehouse.gov website to make Election Day a federal holiday.
If the petition gets 25,000 signatures or more by Dec. 12, it will be reviewed by Obama administration officials.
As of Friday, it was more than halfway toward the goal. The survey can be found at: http://wh.gov/9AMA
Making Election Day a holiday would, Blaydes wrote, "promote the ability of Americans to vote by eliminating the pressures and constraints of the workday. This could be especially beneficial in preventing long lines late in the day, which can impede the process and dissuade voters from participating. Second, it would help create an environment which celebrates democracy on one of the most important days for our nation."
He suggested that it could be combined with Veterans Day in election years "as a way to highlight the indelible impact that our veterans have had on our nation by both protecting and promoting the principles of democracy domestically and across the globe."
Blaydes said he didn't have difficulty voting this year, but said he had lived in Florida and was attuned to the long lines some Floridians endured this year.
"For some people it takes a significant effort and even a long time to vote," he said. "I think we should recognize that and do something that shows that we prioritize the vote so that it doesn't get lost out in someone's busy day."
Outside spending in 13th District race.
SuperPACs and other groups spent an astonishing $23.61 for each vote cast in the 13th Congressional District race earlier this month, according to an analysis of outside group spending in the three-way race. That figure doesn't include the total amounts — not yet known — spent by the candidates themselves.
A total of $6.89 million was spent by superPACs and other so-called "independent" groups in the race between Republican Rodney Davis, Democrat David Gill and independent John Hartman. Unofficially, there were 292,146 votes cast in the race. That figure will increase, however, as provisional and absentee ballots are counted.
The biggest chunk of the money — $3.6 million of it — went toward attacks on Gill. Another $3 million was devoted to attacks on Davis.
Sixteen groups got involved in the race to varying degrees, from the $2.84 million spent by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to the $437.40 invested by the Reelect Congressman (Dennis) Kucinich Committee on behalf of Gill.
One Republican strategist suggested last week that even more outside spending could be devoted to the district in 2014 because there won't be a presidential race, there will be fewer competitive congressional races in Illinois, and Davis — who finished with less than 50 percent of the vote — will be viewed as politically vulnerable.
The $6.89 million spent in the 13th District wasn't even the greatest among Illinois congressional campaigns. More than $9.2 million in outside spending went into the 17th District race in the Quad Cities area where Democrat Cheri Bustos defeated incumbent Rep. Bobby Schilling.
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at email@example.com.