PEORIA — Candidates for Peoria County coroner, resident circuit judge and auditor outlined their platforms and highlighted areas of disagreement during a forum Saturday sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Greater Peoria.
Incumbent Republican Coroner Johnna Ingersoll, seeking a fourth term in the position, and Democratic challenger Jamie Harwood, a certified forensic nurse, were at odds throughout the event over which of them was more compassionate in dealing with families in the case of unnatural or suspicious deaths.
Harwood said it was critical to "show genuine care and compassion" for families while working to "protect the dignity of the deceased" and their privacy.
Ingersoll called herself "compassionate by nature" but also said that while the manner of many deaths investigated by the coroner can be painful to families, "information shouldn't be hidden; it should be spoken honestly."
Harwood called the continued use of coroner's inquests as part those investigations a relic "of an 18th century system" that needed change.
"If I'm elected, the inquest process is going to go away," he said, citing an intent to instead meet privately with families instead to discuss medical conclusions reached in unnatural deaths.
He said that the change would also allow final death certificates to be issued in a more timely manner.
Ingersoll, conversely, said that continuing to perform formal inquests with coroner's juries to reach a conclusion on deaths benefits citizens.
"As a taxpayer-supported government process, it shields you the taxpayers from liability," she said.
She said that she or her staff issue temporary death certificates and, where needed, work with insurance companies to provide more information in cases so families can begin to access survivor benefits while case reviews and the inquest process are ongoing.
Judicial candidates Jodi Hoos, a Democrat who was appointed to a vacant circuit judgeship in late 2014 and now seeks election to the post, and Tim Cusack, who serves as an associate judge, focused on few specifics in their race.
That's typical for many judicial contests, as candidates do not discuss individual cases or much in the way of personal beliefs on issues.
Instead, each emphasized the importance of remaining independent and unbiased, treating people who appear before them equally. They also discussed their experience — Hoos as a longtime assistant state's attorney prosecuting a wide variety of cases; Cusack as a former prosecutor, public defender and private practice attorney.
Hoos and Cusack both also agreed that there are weak points to judicial elections, but expressed satisfaction that citizens are able to weigh in on selections for posts in the state judiciary.
In terms on the impact their work has on citizens, Hoos cited her position on a committee that will implement electronic document filing, streamlining the court process for citizens and attorneys alike. Cusack touted his work as a judge in juvenile court and efforts to reduce the population in the county's Juvenile Detention Center by providing monitoring for lower-level offenders, freeing up space there for the county to take in detainees from other jurisdictions for fees.
Auditor candidates Carol VanWinkle and Alan Paredes sparred over the office's performance and transparency.
Incumbent Democrat Vanwinkle cited as an accomplishment of her two terms in the position the creation of a transparency portal, allowing residents to review county spending. Paredes, a Republican, said the site is too confusing for ordinary citizens to use.
Paredes said that he believes more internal audits need to take place, and that they should be published. VanWinkle said that with staffing cut 50 percent in the office, she has had to prioritize critical duties over expanding into new work.
Only one candidate for County Board District 11, Democrat Laurie Covington, was present, so there were no questions posed for that office and the forum was cut short. GOP nominee Greg Adamson was invited but did not attend.
Chris Kaergard covers politics and government. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 686-3255. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisKaergard