Peoria County Auditor’s Office remains for now

Published: Nov. 17, 2022 at 12:07 PM CST
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PEORIA (25 News Now) - The Peoria County must continue funding the Auditor’s Office, at least for the next 10 days. That is the purpose of a Temporary Restraining Order issued Thursday by Peoria County Circuit Judge James Mack.

The Auditor and County have been embroiled in a controversy about spending practices and the responsibilities of the office. The county board set its 2022 budget not including money for the auditor’s staff and operations of the office. The remaining $112,750 for the office covers the auditor’s salary and minimal operating expenses.

She filled a lawsuit in November 2021 to recover the staff and duties of her office. That suit has been amended to include the county’s efforts to dissolve the office before the end of her term in 2024. Thomas was first elected for partial term in 2018.

The county board also voted to place a referendum on the November 8th ballot asking voters to eliminate the office. The referendum passed by a 40-percent margin, with 70-percent of voters electing to eliminate it. The referendum language however did not specify the date the office would be disbanded, and Thomas has two more years on her current term. That was the matter before Judge Mack Thursday.

The Peoria County Board and Administrator sent Thomas notice Friday, November 11, that the office will no longer be funded as of November 30th, “because the Office is abolished.” The letter read, “Please immediately wind up any remaining affairs that you have with the county.”

It cites caselaw and a 1972 Illinois Attorney General’s opinion that refers to the passage of a referendum abolishing an office to mean the immediate end to public funding for it.

Still in his remarks, Judge Mack says he feels the Temporary Restraining Order is necessary, even though the county doesn’t plan to stop funding the office until the end of the month. The judge says technically, the county could pull funding at any time, since the referendum language does not say when the office’s elimination is effective.

Justin Penn is the Attorney representing the Auditor Thomas. Lisa Meador is representing the county. After the attorneys presented tense arguments the judge called the case, “a mess.”

The next hearing on the subject is at 10:30 a.m. Monday, November 28, 2022, to discuss a preliminary injunction, a step that would allow the TRO to be extended for a longer period.