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 board.
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 taxpayers.
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 Record.
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 Review.
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 $75,000.
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 Record.
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 director.
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.