This November, voters in much of suburban Cook County
will have a chance to choose who will represent them on the board responsible for
reviewing taxpayer appeals of property assessment decisions used by the county
to determine how much property tax should be paid by the owners of homes,
businesses and other real estate in the county.
On Nov. 8, Republican incumbent Commissioner Dan Patlak,
of Wheeling, is seeking reelection to the First District seat on the Cook
County Board of Review. He is challenged by Democrat Martin Stack, of Western
Springs, a lawyer who now is employed as the human resources director at Lyons School
District 103, which operates elementary schools and a middle school in suburban
Lyons, Stickney and Brookfield.
The winner of this seat will receive a four-year term on the
The Board of Review’s First District ambles across much of
northern, western and southern Cook County, including all of the northwestern
county townships and much of the county’s southwestern suburban corner. It also
includes much of the region around O’Hare International Airport, and portions
of Cicero Township and some of the far southern suburbs, as well.
Democratic incumbent Commissioner Michael Carbonagi is also
seeking a new two-year term on the board, representing the board’s Second
District. He is running unopposed.
The Board of Review exists to hear appeals of property value
tax assessments placed on homes and commercial properties by Cook County’s
array of township and county-level assessors. During the 2015-2016 tax year,
the Board of Review handled more than 476,000 appeals, with about 64 percent of
those resulting in an assessment reduction of varying amounts.
While a reduced assessment doesn’t guarantee a reduced
property tax bill, such reductions could mean property owners could pay less
property taxes than they otherwise might, as tax rates are multiplied against
assessments to determine the tax bill.
On the Board of Review since winning election in 2010, Patlak
said he is running to continue the work he began to make the property tax
assessment process more “accessible to taxpayers,” and to stand as the sole
Republican in Cook County’s property tax determination and appeals process, to
ensure Democrats in power in Cook County don’t use the property tax appeal
system as a way to reward friends and allies at the expense of all other
Patlak said, as a former real estate valuation professional
and a township assessor, he also brings a different perspective, with “a lot of
experience and knowledge” to the board, to help the board better understand the
information presented by the board’s analysts and the lawyers representing
those appealing their assessments.
Both Carbonagi and current board Chairman Larry Rogers Jr.
are lawyers, according to their biographical information posted online.
“I have spent a better part of my adult life doing things
that have prepared me for this position,” Patlak said.
He also pointed to a “record of accomplishment” that
included helping lead the process of moving the appeal application process
online and bringing assessment appeal seminars to the public.
And Patlak noted, as long as he is a member of the Board of
Review, his commissioner position will be his full-time and only job. The
position pays $100,000 per year, with full Cook County government benefits.
Stack did not reply to a message from The Cook County
However, according to a candidate statement posted on the
website of WTTW in Chicago, Stack said he was a “practicing attorney in Cook
County for almost 29 years,” including work filing cases before the Board of
Stack, who has not held elected office, said he believed the
Board of Review could help homeowners more by eliminating deadlines for filing
assessment appeals, or expanding the appeal period. Currently, appeals must be
filed within a 30-day window following the completion of the assessment process
within a particular area of the county.
He also said he wished to “abandon practices that cause suspicion,”
including allowing Board of Review commissioners to raise campaign funds.
The candidate questionnaire posted on WTTW’s site did not
list Stack’s current employment at the Lyons School District 103.
However, Stack was hired at the Lyons school district in
December 2015 to serve as the district’s director of human resources. According
to reports published by the Riverside-Brookfield Landmark, the position paid
His hire followed a change in leadership at the district,
after voters swept into power a slate of new school board members, led by
School Board President Michael Bennett and associated with Lyons Village
President Christopher Getty.
Bennett did not return a message from the Cook County
School board member Joanne Schaefer, an opponent of the
current majority who has been on the school board since 1979, said Stack’s hire
came at the same time the district also replaced much of its other executive
leadership, including bringing in a new superintendent and new legal counsel
with the firm of Odelson and Sterk, for whom Stack had previously worked.
Schaeffer said the hires were all made with minimal
discussion at board meetings.
“There is no discussion,” she said. “The board is told, and then
there’s a vote, and it carries 5-2.”
In August, after Stack announced his candidacy, however, the
board’s majority also signed off on altering his employment terms, allowing him
to keep his job, but be paid $40,000 annually, to work “part-time.”
District 103 Superintendent Carol Baker said the decision
was a result of a request from Stack, who, Baker said, wished to ensure there
would be “no question” from the public as to why he would be campaigning during
the day while being paid by the district. Baker said Stack is working a “flexible
schedule,” with 20 hours a week dedicated to his duties as the district HR
Schaeffer, however, said there was no discussion of the
deal, including whether a leave of absence may have been a preferable option.
Patlak generally declined to comment on Stack’s current employment
situation, but said he found the arrangement “odd.”
“But voters can make up their own mind,” he said.