Quick: What are the duties of the Sangamon County auditor?
If you said “keeping track of money,” you’d be right: The auditor serves as the county’s bookkeeper and monitors financial transactions.
“It has been characterized as the least glamorous office in Sangamon County government,” says incumbent Paul Palazzolo, who oversees a fulltime staff of two. “It certainly does not deal with issues that are ripe for TV shows.”
For the second time since being appointed to the post a decade ago, Palazzolo is facing a challenge at the polls this fall.
County board member Chris Boyster says that taxpayers need an independent voice, and that’s what he would provide in a county dominated by Republican elected officials.
“We need some checks and balances,” says Boyster, a North Springfield Democrat who was elected to the county board in 2010, ousting a Republican incumbent who, like Palazzolo, had held elective office since 2002. “I wasn’t supposed to win my race in 2010. I won that race the same way I’m going to win this: I’m going to go door-to-door and say it’s time for a change in Sangamon County.”
As evidence of his independence, Boyster points to a “no” vote on the current county budget because he couldn’t determine whether there would be layoffs under the spending plan. If elected, he said that he would institute performance audits of all county contracts to ensure the public is getting its money’s worth. He said he has a history of working well with people and believes that he could convince other elected officials to agree to performance audits even if they are Republicans.
“I’m on the county board and I know the business of the county and I know what needs to change,” Boyster said.
Boyster, who says that he is working at Wells Fargo Bank as a loan document specialist, had considered running for the state House of Representatives this year, but decided that being auditor would be the best fit.
“I’m not running to pad my resume or use this as a stepping stone to another position,” Boyster said. “I’m running because times are tough.”
Boyster criticizes Palazzolo for being slow to post the amount of every check and payee on the county’s website. He says that the auditor only began posting the information when Boyster said that it would be a good idea.
“That’s like Al Gore saying he invented the Internet,” counters Palazzolo, who says that he had been working on posting checks and payees since last fall. “I believe we’ve done a good job in terms of being fiscally responsible in the auditor’s office and in opening Sangamon County to some transparency.”
Palazzolo says that he has saved millions of dollars by spearheading a voluntary severance plan in which employees who left county employment got one week of salary for every two years worked. Under the arrangement, the county could not hire replacements for six months and then at salaries of no more than 60 percent of what was paid to employees who left. In 2005, 35 employees left the public payroll at an annual savings of $900,000, Palazzolo said. In 2008, when the county made the offer again, 45 employees left county government at an annual savings of $1.1 million, he said.
Palazzolo said that he has also established a motor pool using surplus sheriff’s vehicles so that employees who were once paid mileage for using personal vehicles now check out cars. The program saves $2,000 a year, he said. He said he has also saved money on workers’ compensation claims by setting up a workplace safety committee and establishing a contract with a private firm to handle workers’ compensation cases.
“Whether it’s $2 million or $2,000, we are actively looking for ways to save taxpayer dollars here at the auditor’s office,” Palazzolo said.
A scandal in Dixon, population 15,733, where the city’s treasurer was charged last spring with embezzling $53 million during more than two decades in office, prompted a review of procedures in Sangamon County, Palazzolo said. With the help of experts at three accounting firms who volunteered their services, Palazzolo said he has taken steps to prevent a similar theft here. For example, he said, banks have been told not to open accounts funded by county money without clearing them first with the auditor’s office and county administrator.
Palazzolo dismissed the idea that the public would be better served if there were more Democrats in county elected offices.
“We are serving the taxpayers and citizens of Sangamon County without regard to what letter follows a person’s name,” he said.
Contact Bruce Rushton at firstname.lastname@example.org.