Auditor candidates sparring over credit card scandal

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CHAMPAIGN COUNTY — Former Champaign County Supervisor of Assessments Joe Meents was caught using the county credit card for personal purchases; more than $3,000 worth in about four months.

George Danos is running for county auditor. He says current auditor John Farney should lose his job because the improper spending happened under his watch.

“One of the preeminent duties of the auditor is internal controls,” said Danos, a Democrat. “The idea is to vouch every expenditure beforehand, so nothing gets paid that ought not be paid.”

Farney says nothing inappropriate did get paid, and he has the documentation to back it up.

“We made sure county dollars were being protected,” Farney insisted. “At no time, and I cannot be more clear, at no time was county money spent on Joe Meents’ purchases.  

Meents spent hundreds of dollars on restaurants, sporting goods and Illini tickets; even his personal phone and satellite bills. He put them all on the county credit card.

Farney says Meents was intercepting the credit card bill in the office, and then writing personal checks to pay for it. Danos says this never should’ve been allowed to continue for four months.

“Joe Meents was right across the hall from him,” said Danos. “I’m sure they’re both in the office every day, so I don’t see what prevented a simple question face-to-face on the behalf of the credit card holder.”

Farney says when the first month’s bill didn’t come, he got online. That’s when he found a $68 restaurant bill and a whole lot of gas purchases; a few too many for a county employee.

He says he immediately took the evidence to the county treasurer.

“We said, ‘Hey this is what we’re seeing. We wanted to verify things with them. He said ‘Oh my lord. It is there. Let’s go to the state’s attorney.'”

The state’s attorney immediately called in an outside investigator. Farney says state police told him not to do anything while they investigated, and watched Meents continue his inappropriate spending for three more months.

“Even if that’s correct,” said Danos, “there is still the problem on relying on the wrongdoer to supply the billing in the first place.”

It’s what Danos describes as a lack of oversight which is the bigger issue. For example, he says it’s a problem Farney, the county auditor, doesn’t know exactly how many county credit cards are in use.

“There are 37 outstanding [credit cards]. When Farney was asked how many there were [in a previous interview], he guessed about 25. That means he’s not doing a roll call on the credit cards, so I think that’s a problem.”

“I don’t think it’s a do-or-die situation if I know exactly who has a credit card. I have a list of them. Do I have it memorized? No.”

If elected, Danos says he would put tighter restrictions on who can swipe county plastic. He says 37 credit cards are too many for a county the size of Champaign.  

But, it turns out, 37 isn’t too far off from other similar-sized counties: Peoria County has 40; Sangamon County has 32.

Voters will decide next week if they believe Farney is protecting tax dollars the way he should or if Danos could do a better job.

“We took this office four years ago when I was elected. It was hands down dysfunctional, and we’ve changed it entirely. We’re doing good things in this office, and my opponent has trouble accepting that we’re doing a really good job here.”

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