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- What makes you more qualified to serve as auditor than your opponent?
I am a licensed CPA accountant who works in the private sector for a trusted Big Four firm. My formal education is in economics, actuarial science, and accounting; all at the University of Illinois. In my daily work, I deploy the methods of Extracting, Transforming & Loading (ETL) large data sets, which will allow me to place all county expenditures online with the new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system to come. The current online checkbook will then be superseded, thus forfeiting the belated $10,000 effort of the current auditor.
- What is the greatest need in the auditor’s office at this time?
As Champaign County taxpayers, we need a capable watchdog as Auditor. A professional accountant who has no history of collegiality with the county employees would have maintained the professional skepticism and curiosity to audit the county-issued credit cards monthly rather than rely on an external tip to catch improper, personal charges.
The current auditor had to get reimbursed after the county was made to pay such charges for a man who worked across the hall from him—and did so for charges that went on for four months, starting in September and continuing all the way through December, as can be seen in this local TV report at 0:28. An online checkbook might have allowed a concerned citizen to alert the auditor’s office earlier, although the auditor should have discovered this first. As auditor, I would personally examine the statements monthly as they get posted.
- Why should the auditor remain an elected position?
The auditor should be both qualified and independent. Only elections allow for the possibility of having both qualities in the auditor; neither, however, is guaranteed. We need 1) qualified candidates from the finance sector to step forward and run—or be recruited by the local parties and 2) an auditor who is independent in fact and appearance. Normally, a public accountant could not serve as auditor if even a relative had a position of financial authority with the client. An appointed auditor would himself be subordinate to the authority of the County Board that hired him. That, to me, is an irremediable threat to auditor independence.
Still, there is the possibility of a candidate facing familiarity threats when elevated for partisan reasons by one of the parties. The electorate has to be discerning and choose someone who will be inquisitive, firm, and objective, rather than collegial with those whom he audits.
- What changes do you expect to institute in the office over the next four years?
- Strengthening internal–especially preventive–controls and conveying the message to all countywide employees that the auditor is an active and firmly objective overseer of county finances. I expect to reduce the number of outstanding county-issued credit cards and will personally examine their itemizations.
- Overseeing and assisting directly the transition to a new accounting system that is part of the larger Enterprise Resource Planning system to come.
- Maintaining active professional certification for both the auditor and the chief deputy auditor. This requires dedicating time to Continuing Professional Education (CPE). Both should have active-status CPAs.
- Making regular outreach to the private sector to enlist its knowledge base and hear its concerns for the sake of the Office and of the county as a whole.
- Does the auditor need to have advanced degrees in accounting and government finance in order to be qualified?
Indeed, we ought to have as professional an elected auditor as we can have. This is especially true when the next auditor will serve during a time of heavy transition to a new, upgraded accounting system, which requires more work and entails the risk of information loss. An actual accountant will vouchsafe the integrity of the data and work in the trenches alongside the staff. As home to the University of Illinois, Champaign County ought to have qualified candidates in every election cycle.
Our most successful auditors in the past have either had an advanced degree in Economics, had work experience in the Auditor’s office, or attained a designation (Certified Public Finance Officer). That is not the case today. But when elected, I will be our first CPA auditor.
I do not favor a statewide statutory requirement that the auditor have such degrees. That could prove onerous for smaller counties.
- What are the top priorities you would like to accomplish?
The first priority is to beef up internal–especially preventive–controls and to convey the message to all countywide employees that the auditor is an active and firmly objective overseer of county finances. It should not take 4 months of billings and an outside tip to catch the improper use of a county-issued credit card. Nor should there be 37 such cards outstanding.
Two other significant priorities are to place the county checkbook on-line (thus making the above scenario so transparent as to be rare, even unthinkable) and to ready the office for a transition to the new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) that will also comprise a new accounting system.
- Do you have any prior business experience relevant to serving this this capacity?
I am currently an accountant (CPA) with Ernst & Young in the division of Tax Technology and Data Analytics Services. I am responsible for reporting tax provision for entities with large data sets, which often includes the Extract, Transform, Load (ETL) process with Microsoft database and business intelligence tools. This would especially serve me well in putting all individual county expenses online – as well as all reporting and internal audit duties.
In addition, and prior to my time working formally as a CPA, I worked as a Financial Analyst at Christie Clinic and Personal Care HMO forecasting and reporting financial results as well as auditing and modeling the impact of adopting large contracts.
- Why are you running for office?
I believe that the County, to truly safeguard the public monies and to instill a sense of confidence in the county’s financial statements, must have as Auditor somebody who is professionally prepared for this mission and who maintains his independence from the Board, its appointees, and other elected county officers. I have both the skill set and the outsider/independent mindset that, as a taxpayer, I want in my auditor. Thus, I am running to be that competent and independent professional.
- What three (3) goals would you have for the next four years as County Auditor?
In addition to priorities stated stated above and below, I also have as goals:
- Becoming expert in the county budget so as to advise the Board on the cost-benefit analysis of upcoming proposed revenue and expenditure changes.
- Making outreach to the private sector to enlist its knowledge base and hear their concerns for the sake of the Office and of the county as a whole.
- Maintaining active professional certification for both the auditor and the chief deputy auditor. This requires dedicating time to Continuing Professional Education (CPE).
- How can the County Auditor and the local business community partner now and into the future to help county government and help spur economic development?
First and foremost, the County Auditor must perform timely and accurate reporting so that stakeholders (all taxpayers, homeowners, families in the public school system etc.) have certainty about external conditions to aid their decision making. Uncertainty is costly and prevents investment.
In general, any contribution the Auditor can make to guide county governance in favor of lowering tax rates but broadening the tax base would be welcome.
Local business community partners can engage the county officers in sharing knowledge. I would, for example, want to consult principals in the construction trade as well as lawyers and accountants with sector expertise to make sure the county is getting a good deal for its citizens—especially with the proposed major facilities changes.