Election Article

Logan county Republican debate brings out the best in the candidates

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[March 09, 2020]  On Thursday evening the Logan County Republican Central Committee hosted an open forum debate for the contested seats in Logan County that will be settled in the March 17th Primary Election.

This year the offices of Logan County Circuit Clerk, Logan County Coroner, and Logan County Resident Judge are up for grabs. In each of these three offices there are two Republicans running for the nomination to be placed on the November ballot. There are no Democrats running for local positions in the primary, so ultimately the primary election becomes the most important of the two 2020 elections for these local positions.

Contestants in alphabetical order for the office of Logan County Circuit Clerk are Kelly Elias and Bethany Rademaker; for the office of Logan County Coroner - Don Peasely and Chris Sprague and in the race for Resident Judge - William 'Bill' Workman and Jonathan Wright. Within these races the only ‘incumbent” is Jonathan Wright, who currently serves as the resident judge by appointment.

The Thursday night event was emceed by Jim Drew, who is the Central Committee Chairman this year. Serving as moderators and posing questions to the candidates were Lisa Drew and Kathryn Schmidt. Chuck Conzo served as the time keeper.

Candidates were called to the stage in pairs according to the nomination they were seeking. First up was Bethany Rademaker and Kelly Elias for Logan County Circuit Clerk.

Elias and Rademaker

Each candidate was given two minutes for a self-introduction. Rademaker used her time to speak about her personal background, her life in Lincoln and Logan County, education, family, and community involvement.

Elias went a slightly different route, first talking about Mary Kelley, who is retiring and has served the county for the past 43 years. She talked about working with Kelley to keep the office of the circuit clerk moving forward and into the 21st century. She spoke about the modernization of the office and the use of technology to make the office more efficient.

The questions posed to the candidates came from the audience. Those questions included offering up a definition of the job of circuit clerk, why each candidate feels they are the best one for the job, the challenges that will come with the transition to a new clerk and issues that clerk will have to face straight away.

Candidates took turns being the first to answer the questions. The first to answer had two minutes to give an answer then also was given an additional one minute at the end for rebuttal to the answers of the second candidate.

On the first question, Rademaker answered first and read the job description from the county website.

Elias said that in addition to the job description there is a good deal of customer service and human interaction that comes with the job and that there are daily duties that don’t fall within the written words, but none the less are vital to the successful management of the office.

When asked candidates were asked why they were the best choice for the job, Elias was the first to answer. She talked about her experience in the office, the knowledge she has gained from working with Mary Kelley and the specialized training she has received as a result of working for the Circuit Clerk.

Rademaker leaned on her education as her best qualifying factor coupled with her work experience. She also noted her youth, saying she was one who would be available to serve the county for many terms.

When asked about issues that would need to be addressed immediately in the office, Rademaker said the issues first would be to assure the smooth transition and secondly to start strategic planning for the future of the office.

Elias said she felt that with her in office, the transition would not be an issue, it would go smoothly and seamlessly. She added that the office was very well run today, and she didn’t see any big issues that would have to be addressed.

Asked what the biggest challenges would be Elias was the first to answer and said that there are issues every day and that things are always changing and must be addressed as it happens. She said that she didn’t see any big issues that would come up right away.

Rademaker said the big challenges would be to first trim the budget of the office, and secondly to keep up with technology.

Elias used her rebuttal time and said that she would not be trimming the budget. She added that many of the duties and tasks of the office are mandated and that the office is running as trim as it can. She said the office would work with the money it gets, but it would not be looking to reduce dollars intentionally because everything they receive is necessary for the efficient management of the office.

The candidates were asked about the financial needs and hardships of the county, and Rademaker again said that the Circuit Clerks Office should look at its budget. She conceded that the reductions in budget might not be big, but they could still be helpful.

Elias said that the office would work with what it gets, but she felt that a key factor to the future of the budget on the whole was going to be the passing or failure of the courthouse tax referendum.

Throughout their question and answer session the two women leaned on their individual strengths. Rademaker made note on a number of occasions that she had the education needed to perform the job well. Elias said that while she did not have a college degree, she had a wealth of experience and had been a “sponge” soaking in the knowledge of Mary Kelley and storing it away for her own term in office.

Both women agreed that moving forward the office would maintain its website, utilize news media for public information and would not be integrating a social media component into the office.

Peasley and Sprague

During introductions, Sprague spoke first addressing his years of experience with the current Logan County Coroner. He noted that it was his intent to do only the coroners job with no other jobs on the side. He shared that he was already a “Certified Coroner.”

Peasley spoke about his history in the community, a lifelong resident, his history working for and then owning and managing area funeral homes and his community involvement. He noted that he has also had EMT training and was a certified EMT for a number of years.

The two were asked questions such as what made each one qualified for the office and what are the duties of the office.

Sprague noted his years of experience along with education as his qualifying factors. Peasely noted his experience as a funeral director plus education in grief counseling and psychology.

Talking about the duties of the coroner, Peasley noted that the coroner views the scene, offers the determination if an autopsy is needed, and provides the official cause of death. Sprague added to that saying that there is a great deal of record gathering that has to be done and that the notification process for locating the next of kin can be very complicated and time consuming.

The two had decidedly different opinions on the question posed as to whether or not a coroner should also be a funeral director. Sprague was the first to answer and said no. He said that having a funeral director for a coroner would put family in an awkward position. It would be difficult for them to seek help and advice from the coroner when the coroner was the manager of a funeral home.

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Peasely said that in Illinois a large percentage of the coroners are also funeral directors and it works out fine. He said he personally would show no bias toward his own business when speaking to family of a deceased. He said he would offer them all the options available without consideration for his business.

Sprague used his rebuttal time to note that there are eleven counties in Illinois approximately the same size as Logan. In those eleven counties, only two have coroners who are also funeral directors.

Asked what issues would need to be addressed in the Office of Coroner, Peasely said that the first thing he would want to do would be get rid of the current coroner vans. He said first the primary van was too large. He said when transporting to Bloomington for autopsies, the van cannot get close enough to the entrance to assure privacy when delivering a corpse into the building.

He added that the coroner’s office has two vans and it doesn’t need two, one will suffice.

Sprague disagreed whole heartedly saying that the “big rig” that the coroner’s office has is set up for forensic work. While Peasley noted that other counties didn’t have that big of vehicle, Sprague countered that Logan County does not have a Crime Scene Investigation vehicle that other counties do. He also noted that the larger vehicle, plus the second allows for faster transport of multiple victims, and he noted the airplane crash last week as a prime example of multiple victims. He said there were also many a time when working with Coroner Thomas that the coroner would be traveling to one location while Sprague was headed to another. He said two vehicles were necessary and provided quicker service to loved ones.

In response to other questions, both men reported they were in good health and get regular check-ups. They also agreed that the coroner’s office is no place for social media and said they would utilize local media sources to inform the public as needed.

They both agreed that working a crime scene meant following the lead of the law enforcement agency in charge and being beyond careful to follow proper procedure so as not to contaminate or compromise evidence.

Workman and Wright

Of the three sets of candidates the two who were possibly the most cordial toward one another and most “on the same page” in their answers were Judge Workman and Judge Wright.

Jonathan Wright is currently serving by appointment as the resident judge for Logan County. Workman is an associate judge currently assigned to Logan County.

Questions were each asked about their future if the other wins the resident seat. Wright said that Judge Workman if not elected would be continuing on as an associate judge. Workman said that was the case, but the difference was that at any time he could be reassigned to another county. As a resident judge, he will only serve in Logan and that is what his ultimate goal is, to stay in his home community.

Asked about serving more than one six-year term, both agreed they wanted to serve long-term. Workman, who is in his early sixties noted that a judge may hold his seat until age 75 so he was looking forward to at least serving two terms and perhaps a bit beyond.

The men were asked their position on gay marriage. Both agreed that their job is to follow the letter of the law and the law states that same sex civil unions are legal in Illinois. Workman noted that he is the only judge in Logan County who will perform a same sex marriage. However, Wright countered that the assignment to perform civil unions comes from a higher authority and that Workman was assigned to the duty.

One question appeared to be seeking to raise a controversy, but neither candidate took the bait. The question was pointed directly at Judge Wright pertaining to nepotism and the fact Wright’s daughters work for the county. Should that be permissible?

Wright said that he felt that the question did not pertain to the role of the circuit judge and did not justify an answer. Wright went on to say that he was very proud of his daughters and the decisions they are making for their lives. He supports them in whatever career choices they might make.

Workman agreed that the question was not worth debate. He added that all positions within the county are open to the public and Wright's daughters are a part of that public and deserve to be treated as such.

Both men agreed that the role of the resident judge includes making sure that defendant parties are treated with respect and are spoken to in language they can understand. Wright noted that people are much more able to accept a judge’s decision when it is explained to them and justified by law in understandable terms, regardless of the final outcome. Wright said that most people don’t want to hear “legalese.” They want explanations that they can relate to and understand.

Workman agreed and added that in the courts they are seeing more self-representation. It is important to be respectful of that and to make sure that the person or persons have a clear understanding and that they get help as needed. He added that while he can’t and wouldn’t litigate for them, he can make sure they are not taken advantage of.

Asked what the biggest challenges of the office will be, Wright said that making sure that self-litigants have access to knowledge is going to become more important. He talked about providing law library access for those litigants. He added that modernization of recording and reporting in the courtroom is ongoing and will continue to be a challenge.

Workman agreed saying that technology in the courtroom and in the judge’s office must continue to move forward and that work toward a paperless judicial system must also continue.

It was noted that Logan County is ahead of schedule on going electronic with much of the work already done.

Brad Hauge

Brad Hauge is the currently Logan County State’s Attorney by appointment. He filled the position when Judge Wright accepted his appointment as Resident Circuit Judge for Logan County.

Hauge is running unopposed for State’s Attorney. On Thursday evening, he came to the stage only for a brief moment, introducing himself and speaking about his desire to be elected to the State’s Attorney position.

When Hauge was finished, Jim Drew thanked guests for attending, adding that there were refreshments in the lobby and all the candidates were going to be staying around for a bit for one-on-one conversations.

The turnout on Thursday evening was not huge. The auditorium at the Johnston Center for Performing Arts was less than half filled, but those who were in attendance seemed to appreciate the process. Some did say that the debates had assisted them in making a decision for March 17th.

The Primary Election will be held on March 17.

The Logan County Clerk’s office has provided several informative press releases about the primary as well as sample ballots for the Democrat, Nonpartisan, and Republican voters. All that information is gathered together in Lincoln Daily News. Click here to review.

Lincoln Daily News also has published the position statements of candidates Elias, Hauge, Rademaker, Sprague, Workman and Wright. Click here to review.

A large number of people have submitted letters of support for individual candidates and those letters are still coming in daily. All those letters are located in one place in the Where they Stand section of Lincoln Daily News. Click here to review. This section also includes letters of support for the Courthouse Tax Referendum.

The public is encouraged to review and self-educate on the candidates and make their voices heard through the election process on March 17th.

[Nila Smith]

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