Kankakee County Branch of the NAACP’s Candidate Forum

Jake Lee answers a question during Tuesday's debate hosted by the Kankakee County Branch of the NAACP’s at the Kankakee Public Library.

KANKAKEE — The lawsuit filed by Kankakee County Auditor Jake Lee against the Kankakee County Board in Kankakee Circuit Court is going to move forward after both sides couldn’t reach a settlement agreement.

DeKalb County State’s Attorney Rick Amato is representing Lee, while Grundy County State’s Attorney Jason Helland is representing the defendant, Kankakee County Board.

Amato wrote on June 16 in a settlement offer that, by state law, the auditor is to be the general accountant of the county and is to devise and install a system of financial records in the offices and divisions of the county and be suitable to the needs of the office in accordance with generally accepted principles of accounting for governmental bodies.

“Thus, the auditor is not just to monitor the county, he/she is to perform as the county’s accountant as well,” he said. “This appears to be a particular problematic portion of Mr. Lee’s auditor duties for the county to accept.”

Amato wrote the county has ignored the entire law.

“They have altogether sidelined Mr. Lee in favor of a financial director,” he wrote. “That response is not appropriate and is unsustainable considering that the Illinois Attorney General put the issue to rest in a formal opinion almost 30 years ago.”

Further, Amato wrote, “Kankakee County has effectively taken the Auditor’s Office, stripped away its duties and staff, and empowered the Finance Office to act in its place. It has unceremoniously usurped the Auditor of his role in county finances, and this is the crux of all the remaining problems. This is an abuse of the Board’s discretion. ... It is unquestionable that the Finance Office is acting as the County Auditor, without statutory authority and in violation of the law.”

The plaintiff proposes that the most cost-effective and responsible manner would be to reverse course and transfer the statutory functions of the auditor back to Lee.

“We ask that the County Board begin to enact, repeal, and/or amend the necessary financial policies to allow the Auditor to properly perform the function of auditor and accountant,” Amato wrote.

The county board contends that the county split the auditor and finance departments in 2003 because it said the federal government required more checks and balances.

Helland wrote a letter Friday, supporting the separation of the duties of the auditor and county finances. He contends that it has been clear since day one that the auditor and his legal representatives have no intention other than suing the county.

“I have been presented all documents, communications, policies ... relevant to the duties of the Auditor and the authorities within that office, as well as the Illinois Constitution and statutes provide for County Government Administration. As documented by on-the-record statements from the Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe, as well as opinions from the Kankakee County assistant state’s attorney when directly asked, there has been no evidence presented of criminal activity currently or previously being committed by any of the defendants in this lawsuit. There have been no audit findings from outside auditors that point to any lack of internal control of violations.”

Helland said he has tried to set up a meeting to bring both sides together to resolve the issues to no avail.

“The County has been, and will be, committed to a resolution of this matter without wasting taxpayer money on litigation between an elected official and the County Board. “

Helland’s office sent a response to the plaintiff on Aug. 7, addressing many of the issues presented in Amato’s settlement offer of June 16. The main issue is the county’s finance department is infringing on some of the auditor’s statutory duties and those duties need to be returned to the auditor in order to comply with the law. The finance department’s check is the auditor, and not the county board.

In response, Helland wrote, “The Auditor only performs accounting according to the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles as mentioned in the statute. Those standards describe that you cannot audit your own accounting work, or per federal single audit standard, have direct report to do it. It must reside outside of the office.

“... The County believes that all statutorily defined duties of the auditor were returned in the December 1, 2019, revised Financial Policy Manual. The County is open to having discussion of what specific accounting duties need to be returned to the Auditor’s office, if any, in order to avoid litigation.”

In his conclusion, Helland wrote, “The County is not seeking to sue any party nor do they want to get sued. Based on the current financial condition of the County and a 20-30% decrease in revenue due to the COVID-19 during this fiscal year, the County does not have the appetite for engaging in needless litigation that could cost the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

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