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Peoria County Board approves budget cuts to auditor's office, leaving Thomas as only employee

Tim Shelley
Peoria County Auditor Jessica Thomas reads a prepared statement during the public comment portion of Thursday's county board meeting.

The Peoria County Board has approved cutting the Peoria County Auditor's Office's budget down to one employee - the auditor herself.

The board voted 15-2 at its Thursday meeting to approve $127. 9 million dollar 2022 budget. Board members Brandy Bryant and Matt Windish were the no votes. Board chairman Andrew Rand was absent.

That includes the controversial cuts of three employees from the Peoria County Auditor's Office, leaving elected auditor Jessica Thomas as the sole remaining employee.

Peoria County State's Attorney Jodi Hoos defended those moves as necessary.

Tim Shelley
Peoria County State's Attorney Jodi Hoos defends the cuts to the auditor's office ahead of the county board's vote at Thursday's county board meeting.

"The bottom line is this: the auditor has mismanaged her budget. She is projected to be going over this year by many thousands. The auditor has mismanaged her office for several months now," Hoos said. "The county has been in a number of union grievances, as well as claims and suits against the county. If the board did nothing in response to all of those issues, then it would not be doing its job."

But Thomas said those claims are false and misleading.

"I think it's disgusting what they're doing," Thomas said. "And it was very slanderous and disappointing, the lies State's Attorney Hoos had the opportunity to comment on. There's no mismanagement of my office. It's crazy how they can throw out statements without details."

Thomas said the union grievances were filed against county administration after the employees were written up for not using the county's timekeeping system. Thomas said her office runs its own timekeeping system, as permitted by statute.

In an email Friday morning, Hoos said Thomas refused to use the countywide payroll system used by every other elected official and department, and won't give the county HR department's standard documentation forms required for her employees.

"Those refusals exposed the County to lawsuits regarding worker’s compensation, unemployment claims, violations of the Personnel Records Review Act, and many, many others," Hoos said.

The state's attorney said she when she cited mismanagement, she was referring to the auditor's budget exceeding its projected budget by nearly 10 percent for this fiscal year.

Regarding mismanagement, she said Thomas has repeatedly exposed the county to liability over the last several months, with several grievances issued which could have led to unfair labor practice, hostile work environment, and discrimination claims against the county.

Brittany Strickland, an auditor's office employee, said the union's issue was with county administration when they filed the grievances.

"Unfortunately, she (Hoos) spun some truths," Strickland said. "And some of them were blatant lies."

The board also moved to transfer $80,000 from the auditor's budget to allow the three auditor's office employees to land guaranteed lateral transfers to other vacancies throughout county government at the same pay rate when the jobs in the auditor's office are eliminated in December.

Strickland said she would consider the offer, but she was disappointed by how Thursday's process played out and hopes the board reconsiders the cuts.

Thomas' attorney, Katherine Swise of Miller, Hall & Triggs, said eleven statutory duties are laid out for the auditor in the county code. She said while the county board does control the budget appropriations for the office, they don't have the right to effectively "budget it out of existence."

Swise said duplicating the duties of the auditor within the county finance office doesn't justify the cuts.

But Hoos said those claims are wrong. The county board is "right-sizing" the auditor's office for "what the duties currently are," she said.

Thomas said she has retained Miller, Hall & Triggs to advise her of the best opportunities to get the office "back up and operational."

She said she doesn't wish to engage Hoos in "her apparent desire to have a very public fight" in order to distract from the issues at hand.

"Since their referendum to eliminate the office failed and they cannot remove an elected official from office, they’ve chosen instead to defund my office so it cannot reasonably function. This is an unfortunate and clear violation of the statutory framework creating the office of the Auditor, as well as a violation of the will of the citizens of Peoria County," Thomas said in an emailed statement.

Thomas is a member of the WCBU Community Advisory Board.

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