GSU Connections: Jake Lee
Kankakee Auditor Counts on Governors State for Enduring Lessons
In 2016, College of Business Advisory Board member Jacob "Jake" Lee was elected auditor of Kankakee County. In August, before the end of his first term, Lee filed suit against the county, its board, and its chairman, all in an effort to do his job.
In the world of politics, Lee might sound like a guy with a grudge, but this two-time Governors State University student is fundamentally committed to following proper procedure. Its a principle reinforced by his coursework at the university, he said.
A 2018 graduate of GSU’s undergraduate Accounting program, Lee is pursuing a master’s degree at his alma mater. This will not only be his second degree from GSU, but it will also be his second master’s degree.Lee, who said he re-enrolled at Governors State to sharpen his accounting skills as Kankakee’s auditor, already holds a Master of Business Administration degree from a another university.
“When I was first elected in 2016, I had not worked in public accounting. I had never been a staff accountant,” Lee said. “I had an MBA, but I didn't even have a minor in accounting.”
Road back to Governors State
A veteran of the U.S. Navy, Lee said his background was in the trucking industry, where he served as a director of safety and operations manager for Hoekstra Transportation. Lee’s quest to continue his education drew some negative attention from an opponent during his November 2020 reelection campaign. The voters did not seem to mind, and Lee was re-elected, which led him to believe his enrollment at GSU worked in his favor. He's the first African American to hold a county-wide elected office.
“I think people viewed my return to school as, ‘He’s continuing to grow in his position, keep his mind sharp.’ I think that was viewed positively by voters,” Lee said.
As Lee settles into his second term as auditor of Kankakee County, his legal battles continue. Lee’s August lawsuit formally contests a 2003 decision, made by county administrators, that moved oversight of some county finances from the auditor’s office to a newly created Finance Department. The legal case may be complex, but the issue, for Lee, is simple: The auditor’s office should have the power to oversee all county finances.
Lee said his determination to pursue the legal issue is the result of what he has learned at Governors State, in part. Beyond the classes, Lee said, professors, like Ting Jie “T.J.” Wang and Michael Trendell, inspire him to navigate obstacles.
Wang, a Professor of Accounting at GSU’s College of Business, is an immigrant to the United States who lives with a set of complex physical challenges, due to birth defects caused by Thalidomide. Lee said it was Wang’s “personal story… and all these things he had to deal with” that give him perspective to persist. Trendell, a Senior Lecturer of Accounting and Auditing, is an “incredible professor” whose teaching “sticks with you,” Lee recalled.
“He used phrases [in class] that I find myself using at work: ‘When in doubt, do a t-account’ or ‘Professional skepticism,’ ” Lee said of Trendell. “We have interns now in the auditor’s office, and there are a lot of techniques and things I got from Professor Trendell that are useful.”
Since he took office, Lee has created an internship program in the auditor’s office. The program, open to local college students, allows participants to gain experience beyond the classroom. In addition to his dedication to his career and his education, Lee is also committed to his community. His work outside of the office and the classroom includes charitable endeavors and makes regular appearences on WKAN (101.3 FM or AM 1320), from 7 to 9 a.m. Tuesday mornings, to talk about local issues.
As for the auditor’s office, Lee said he would continue to use what he learns at GSU, as he works for the voters of Kankakee County.
“We’ve performed eight audits over the last four years,” Lee said. “I learned most of those procedures at Governors State. I’m kind of a nerd that way.”