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Peoria County Auditor Thomas hopes the position can be saved

221110 Jessica Thomas  .jpg
Tim Shelley
/
WCBU
Peoria County Auditor Jessica Thomas speaks at a veteran's memorial event at the Peoria County Courthouse in this Oct. 2020 file photo.

Peoria County Auditor Jessica Thomas says she's not giving up the fight to save her position after voters approved eliminating it on Tuesday.

The county board's second attempt at asking voters to eliminate the auditor's office secured 70% approval on election night. But Thomas said the referendum language was biased toward securing "yes" votes.

“I'm not against the referendum, I'm against the way it was presented,” Thomas said Thursday. “I really feel like the people and the voters deserve to have a referendum that was clear, so they know what they were voting on and they know what they were getting rid of.”

Thomas was elected auditor in 2020. The referendum calls for eliminating the elected auditor's office after her four-year term expires in December 2024.

The ballot question claimed an annual savings of $150,000 for taxpayers. Thomas said she wasn’t surprised that resulted in overwhelming approval.

“The voters really probably didn't know what they were voting on; they were voting on a cost savings,” she said. “Me being a person who is very frugal, had I not been the auditor or understood the situation, I probably would have voted yes, too, because of that cost savings.”

The revised referendum language that appeared on the ballot, she said, also was illegally filed with the Election Commission four days after the statutory deadline.

“The language that actually probably should have made the ballot was a more fair and balanced language, that the voters would have been more clear as to what they were voting on. That language got replaced with this language that was filed four days late,” said Thomas.

For full disclosure, Thomas is a member of the WCBU Community Advisory Board that has no role in or oversight of newsroom decisions.

Thomas and citizen Karrie Alms filed a lawsuit to have the referendum stricken from the ballot. Judge James Mack denied two requests to issue emergency preliminary injunctions ahead of the election.

“We are appealing, and that will be heard before the vote is certified. So in all hope, this victory will be short-lived and this referendum will be eliminated,” said Thomas.

In 2018, Peoria County voters approved keeping the elected auditor's office, but only by a margin of 19 votes. Thomas said she had little hope of persuading enough voters to save the office this time.

“This referendum was selling the vote 'yes' to every voter who touched the ballot. Being one person, I couldn't possibly get in front of every voter to educate them,” she said.

A majority of county board members has suggested the office is redundant to the external auditor required under state law. In 2021, the board slashed the budget for the elected auditor’s office so that Thomas is the lone employee.

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Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.