Terry Hunt: Candidate profile, Kane County Auditor
Kane County Auditor Terry Hunt is seeking a third term in the office, which serves as an independent watchdog over county spending and keeps records of all receipts, disbursements and funds balances.
Challenging the Republican from Big Rock is county board member Penny Wegman, a Democrat from Elgin.
The Daily Herald recently asked the candidates to answer a series of questions.
Q; Why are you running for this office, whether for reelection or election for the first time? Is there a particular issue that motivates you? If so, what?
A: The County Auditor has the unique authority among elected officials to audit any county agency, thereby serving as an independent watchdog on behalf of the citizens of Kane County. That was the challenge that motivated me to run for County Auditor when I was first elected in 2012. I am also passionate about providing my constituents with easy access to the county's financial information in a fully transparent manner. In 2015, during my first term as County Auditor I launched a financial transparency platform that provided the public with user-friendly access to all of the county's financial operations. Because I am always looking for ways to improve the way my office serves the community, in 2020 we upgraded to the Kane County Open Finance platform, which provides that financial information on a real time basis.
Q: If you are an incumbent, describe your main contributions. Tell us of any important initiatives you've led. If you are a challenger, what would you bring to the board and what would your priority be?
A: In addition to performing the duties of my office, I have served on a number of advisory and ad hoc committees. We have saved Kane County taxpayers millions of dollars in many areas including; refinancing general obligation bonds, initiating a mandated services study to identify areas of potential savings, making critical decisions which fully fund our pension plan, establishing a lending program to allow local businesses to make environmentally friendly investments, etc. I have also led though my office and the internal audits we perform. As previously mentioned my office has greatly improved the financial transparency we provide the public. As evidence, Kane County was the first, and is still the only, county in Illinois to achieve a perfect 100% transparency rating by an independent third party. My internal audits have returned millions of dollars to the general fund, thereby allowing the county to maintain a balanced budget without increasing the county's share of the tax levy. Most recently my office implemented a document management system that is not only cost effective, but will also reduce paper consumption by over 75% making it a green initiative as well.
Q: What special qualifications does a county auditor need that may not apply to other county offices? What professional qualifications or experiences do you possess that will help ensure your success as auditor?
A: By statute, the duties of the County Auditor differentiate that officer from all other county officials. The County Auditor is the only elected official authorized "to maintain a continuous internal audit of the operations and financial records of the officers, agents or divisions of the county ... Collect, analyze and preserve statistical and financial information with respect to the cost of operation of the various institutions and facilities maintained, operated or owned by the county." That is the most significant distinction between the County Auditor and the other county officers and department directors. I earned a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration with a major in accounting and a minor in finance. I have 45 years of combined experience in auditing and accounting in both the public and private sector, as well as serving the past 8 years as the Kane County Auditor. During that time, I have added nearly 500 hours of continuing professional education credits designed specifically for this office. I have also served multiple terms as the Treasurer for the Illinois Association of County Auditors and the Northeast Multi-Regional Training, Inc.
Q: To what extent must an auditor remain independent of other county offices and officials, and how will you ensure the appropriate level of independence in this office?
A: When I first ran for election in 2012, my key tenets were Integrity, Independence and Innovation. Those very principles remain prominently displayed on my campaign signs. In order to be effective, the County Auditor must maintain a balance between professional cooperation and independence. In the eight years I have served as the County Auditor, I have established an appropriate level of independence from other county officials and department directors. I will continue to do so if reelected.
Q: Describe your position regarding the allocation of resources in the auditor's office. Are personnel allocated as they should be? Are there capital expense or other budgetary items that the office must address, and, if so, how do you propose to address them?
A: With all due respect to the question, the resources of the auditor's office are so limited that there is very little room for allocation issues. My staff consists of a full-time Deputy Auditor, a part time Staff Auditor and a part time Administrative Assistant. We have no capital expense in the budget. In terms of discretionary items, there is only about $17,000 in my budget other than personnel items. I operate my office with the smallest budget of any office or department in the county. More importantly, I have always operated within the budgets approved by the County Board and provided the county with consistently outstanding performance.
Q: Kane County does not provide salary and benefit information on its website about specific employees, by name, until the end of the fiscal year. Should the county provide this public information in real time?
A: The County Auditor maintains the Kane County Open Finance portal, which actually does provide real time payroll information by employee. That information can be easily sorted by office or department to display and filter earnings to identify salaries, straight time wages, overtime wages, etc. on a real time basis. The report referenced in the question is produced and displayed by the Finance Director on a different Web page from my office. I do not believe that the benefit of modifying that report to a real time basis would justify the added expense required to do so. In fact, by producing the information on a real time basis, the report could actually become more confusing. For example, the Finance Director's report is produced on a calendar year basis to match with reported payroll earnings, but the county operates on a fiscal year. Payroll is paid every two weeks, but the fringe benefits are paid monthly or annually which would make the real time comparisons less meaningful. Union contracts call for pay increases and certain periodic payments to be made at various times during the year. As a result, there would be interim spikes in a real time report.
Q: What responsibility does the auditor have in ensuring federal dollars, such as CARES Act funds, are properly spent?
A: Neither the State Statute nor the County Code assign responsibility to the County Auditor for ensuring that federal dollars are properly spent. The US Department of the Treasury is the lead agency responsible for establishing the guidance for the eligibility of expenditures under the CARES Act. The Coronavirus Relief Fund is just one part of the CARES Act, and the Treasury continues to modify its guidance. The Kane County Board has the sole responsibility and authority to establish policy for how those funds are spent, and they have chosen to engage a third party administrator to rule on the eligibility of any expenditures. Prior to approving any payments to be made by the County Treasurer, the County Auditor will appropriately review claims to ensure that the policy of the County Board has been followed.
Q: Would you support an effort to consolidate the offices of the auditor and the treasurer?
A: I would not. Kane County has adopted the best practice financial policies, which have been recommended by a variety of leading professional organizations such as the AICPA, GFOA, IIA and others. The internal controls built into those policies have been successfully implemented in Kane County and updated over the years. Together they have established an effective system of checks and balances between the Auditor, the Treasurer and the Finance Director. While it is critical that those three organizations work well together, the elimination of any one of the independent functions would create a serious internal control weakness.