County government in Illinois desperately needs modernization, but politics as usual makes that problematic.
Elections have consequences, and one of them is that Champaign County Republicans aren’t happy with the leadership of local county elected offices they don’t run.
That’s one quick conclusion to draw about a proposal that was released last week to reorganize county government.
Many local Democrats will, no doubt, react with rage to the plan that would cut them off at the knees. While that reaction would be perfectly understandable, they should bear in mind that they asked for it with substandard performance in office.
In a statement issued by county recorder of deeds Mark Shelden, the local GOP proposed three dramatic changes.
➜ eliminating the elected posts of treasurer and auditor and merging them with other budget officials under an appointed county financial officer.
➜ eliminating an elected recorder of deeds office and making this purely administrative post an appointed one.
➜ reduce the current full-time post of county executive to part time.
Illinois has 102 counties, and most of them are governed under election arrangements set in place well over 100 years ago.
Setting aside partisanship, the idea behind the GOP’s position is that the public would be far better served by appointing professionals to highly specialized positions rather than letting any Tom, Dick or Harry — qualified or simply in need of employment — get elected.
There’s no reason not to be frank about what’s involved here.
The fiasco surrounding the 2018 elections for treasurer and county clerk is what’s driving this issue.
Once mostly invisible because they were properly run by effective elected officials, they’ve been in the news because of high-profile mismanagement issues that demonstrate just how badly the public can be served when unqualified individuals are elected.
Ironically, Champaign County Clerk Aaron Ammons, whose tenure has been difficult, would be unaffected by the proposed rule changes. What’s equally ironic is that Auditor George Danos, who is well qualified, would be.
Personalities aside, it’s the height of foolishness to elect individuals to some of these offices.
How many people even know there’s an elected recorder of deeds, let alone who that official is and what he does — besides record deeds, of course.
Other than the fact that it’s always been done this way, what’s the logic behind electing a treasurer or auditor to carry out the extraordinarily difficult job of tracking financial transactions or overseeing the tax collection process?
Here’s another issue that’s not a part of the GOP proposal — people elect a county sheriff who is not required to have even minimum qualifications to oversee extremely challenging law enforcement duties. Voters don’t elect the chief of police in Urbana and Champaign. Why elect a county sheriff?
People argue in defense of electing these offices that it’s an extension of the democratic process, and it is. But to what end and to whose benefit?
Political wannabes flock to these mostly administrative positions because they pay well and they represent launching pads to higher office. So it’s clearly in the interest of that small group to maintain the status quo.
But does the public at large benefit? If so, how?
Of course, this wouldn’t be an issue if all candidates seeking these posts had the credentials to do the job. That, however, is a hit-and-miss proposition, as has been repeatedly demonstrated.
Whatever the merits of this proposal, the politics are difficult. It’s hard to imagine the Democratic-controlled county board buying into the plan. Still, there could be support for making the recorder’s office appointed.
As for creating a chief financial officer and moving the treasurer and auditor’s offices under it, that apparently would require the approval of the General Assembly. How this would avoid turning into a purely political slugfest is difficult to discern.
But there’s no question that county government in Illinois, including the township government nonsense, is prehistoric in nature and desperately needs new, nonpolitical, nonpartisan thinking. Unfortunately, Illinois is steeped in politics and corruption, making real positive change a long-shot at best.