The flag of Portage County. Michael Indriolo/The Portager
Portage County Auditor Janet Esposito has announced she will retire after her term ends in 2023, bringing to an end a career that spanned over 30 years in county government.
After years of keeping the books for the Portage County Randolph Fair, Esposito was elected as a county commissioner in November 1988. She won that race, besting Kathleen Chandler by fewer than 100 votes. She was first elected as Portage County Auditor in 1994.
“I’m 79. I’m going to be 80 in September, and I’ve decided it’s time,” Esposito said in an interview.
Often running unopposed, Esposito, a Republican, gained a reputation for supporting whomever she thought would do the best job, no matter if they were Republican or Democrat, Portage County Prosecutor Victor Vigluicci said.
“Even in Democratic areas of the county, I was always the high vote getter and I was a Republican,” Esposito said. “I appreciated it. It humbled me.”
In a press release indicating his intent to run for Esposito’s soon-to-be-vacant office, Portage County Treasurer Brad Cromes, a Democrat, stated that: “Janet has a tremendous track record in Portage County, and has set a great example of what constituent service should look like. I believe strongly that our next Auditor should carry that example forward, while also working to modernize the office’s operations. I am ready for that challenge, and excited to make my case to voters.”
The filing deadline for the May primary is 4 p.m. Feb. 2. Apart from Cromes, two Republicans, Kristy Elliott and citizen watchdog Brian M. Ames, have also filed to run for county auditor, according to the Board of Elections.
The Board of Elections will meet on Feb. 11 to certify the petitions and determine who will actually be on the May ballot.
Esposito said she is most proud of the auditor’s office transitioning to a computerized system that is integrated with all the county offices. With the county commissioners, she re-established a Data Processing Board in 1991, which ensures all county offices’ IT systems are mutually compatible, she said. The auditor heads that board.
“The only thing we haven’t accomplished is getting rid of all the paper, because the paper is required for documentation,” she said.
Regrets? None, she said.
“I’ve been lucky to work with lots of elected officials who are good about teamwork,” she said, carefully noting that in both personal and professional life, it’s all about building relationships.
Esposito recalled a number of people who approached her over the years, some with concerns relevant to the auditor’s office and some simply because they didn’t know where else to turn. Often, she was able to assist, enlisting the help of attorneys or other officials with a simple suggestion. It’s still true today, Esposito said. All it takes is a simple ask.
“People don’t need to do it, but they do it. This is a great county. People don’t realize it,” she said.
Esposito lauded her staff’s expertise and ability to explain things like property tax increases to callers.
“They got the background, and they got the history,” she said. “I’m proud of everything we’ve done.”
Also topping her list of accomplishments is her record of, as she put it, “getting good audits.” That’s right: the auditor’s office gets audited on a regular basis.
County Commissioner Sabrina Christian-Bennett said Esposito’s “institutional knowledge” will be missed and noted that, under her watch, the county received favorable audit marks even when most of Ohio’s other counties did not.
“My thing is to get good audits. That’s important to me, and to the county,” Esposito said.
As for plans after her term as auditor ends in March 2023, she said she may return to some of the boards and commissions she worked with before joining county government, perhaps even serving again with the Portage County Randolph Fair Board. She said she’ll spend more time visiting with her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, in Ohio and out of state.
“I’ve got lots of things I could do. I just have to think what I want to do,” she mused.
There’s time enough to think about it. Esposito will remain in office until her term ends in March 2023. After that, according to quick survey of her fellow county officials, she will be missed.
“I’ve been working with her for 28 years,” Vigluicci said. “She is a feisty and aggressive watchdog of the people’s money. She’s certainly earned her retirement.”
Noting Esposito’s popularity, Vigluicci said he has tried to emulate her open door policy and constant availability.
“That’s a great mark of a public servant. I admire her and it’s a pleasure to work with her,” he said.
County Commissioner Vicki Kline recalls serving as county treasurer while Esposito was auditor. “I thank her for her service,” Kline said. “She’s done the county well, and I wish her the best in her retirement.”
Esposito enjoyed bipartisan support even in a political climate marked by increasing divisiveness, Kline and Vigluicci agreed.
“There were Democrats that went to her fundraisers. There were Democrats that put out her signs,” Kline said.