The candidates for Tazewell County Auditor were warned from the get-go not to get personal.
"We are here to learn what you bring to the office of auditor. Your qualifications. Your values. And your vision. This is not you talking about him, him talking about you," said moderator Dean Kaisner. "This is where you are, and why we should vote for you, and where you're going. None of that other stuff is going to come into play, or be accepted."
Despite those words of caution, tensions flared occasionally in the half-hour long candidate's forum between incumbent auditor Shelly Hranka and challenger Brett Grimm at Morton's Freedom Hall on Thursday. Both candidates are Republicans.
Hranka said she wants a second term to finish up the work she's started.
She's suing the county board, county board chairman David Zimmerman, and state's attorney Stu Umholtz for slashing the office's salary and staff before she took office and taking away oversight duties she said are statutorily required. She also alleges the former auditor, Vicki Grashoff, deleted vital computer records, including established policies and procedures.
In a separate suit, she alleged Zimmerman filed improper mileage reimbursement requests.
She said some county board members and elected officials don't appreciate her watchdog approach.
"I'm making some enemies when I ask questions of how things are spent. But that's what I'm there for. I'm there to protect your dollars," Hranka said. "I'm not there to make friends. I'm there to make sure that everyone is spending the money the way it should be spent and not, you know, frivolously."
The county board placed a referendum on the 2018 ballot to make the auditor's job an appointed, rather than elected, position. Fifty-seven percent of voters ultimately chose to keep the job an elected position. Only 17 of Illinois' 102 counties still elect an auditor.
Hranka said she's not able to do some parts of the job because she isn't getting needed communication from other elected officials. But Grimm says the problem is the current auditor.
"We have 21 members on the board, and there's been a lot of not speaking back and forth. It's kind of an angry place down there. And it doesn't need to be. All we have to do is work together toward a lot of the solutions. Talk," he said.
Grimm previously served as a county board member for 10 years.
Grimm also cited the legal costs of Hranka's lawsuits against the county board, which he claims now total more than $200,000. Hranka said she won't drop those lawsuits even if she loses her re-election bid as a matter of principle.
The primary election is March 17.