Kohn says he checked closer to read the bulletin board display in children's handwriting, and found a quote from Cuban Communist dictator Fidel Castro:
Kohn says he checked closer to read the bulletin board display in children's handwriting, and found a quote from Cuban Communist dictator Fidel Castro:
During his first weeks in office, Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios hired or fired 27 people in violation of a federal court order designed to prevent politics from playing a role in most of the office's personnel decisions, an attorney in the case said Thursday.
When Berrios hired his son, sister and a close political associate to work for him last month, he said all were put in positions exempt from the patronage ban. Berrios also said the 13 people he fired held exempt posts.
But the job titles of only two of the fired workers and only nine of the 25 hired workers were on the court-ordered exempt list, according to documents provided to the Tribune under the state's open records law.
Mailed on November 10th, safely after the November 2nd election, Cook County residents got their 2nd property tax installment bills Friday -- just before the weekend and two days of cooling off. We've heard from IR readers who say the second half of the year's amount due has increased up to 30 percent, despite their property valuations declining at the same time. For many that means an annual increase of $2000 or more for their residential property.
One reader wrote: "In 2008 my assessed value was 31,316 and in 2009 it went down to 30,063. My taxes on the other hand went from 2008 $4,185.36 to in 2009 $6,888.41."
Another wrote: "We just received our final 2009 property tax bill. Compared with what we paid in 2008, the amount of property tax we now have to pay has increased by a whopping 30 Percent! While the assessment level dropped from 16 percent to 10 percent, the property value basis was increased by an unbelievable 54 percent."
How did your residential property fare in Cook County property taxes? And will this financial hit in Cook County affect Governor Pat Quinn's attempt to raise personal and corporate income taxes in the General Assembly next week? Or will Quinn devotees in Cook County -- where Quinn won the governor's race last week -- continue to insist that people in Illinois just don't pay enough taxes?
More to come ...
Democrat Joe Berrios won election Tuesday as Cook County assessor. He'll leave the county Board of Review — his appeals board's formal name — to take the new gig. After which the appeals board on which Berrios now sits will affirm or reject the property valuations of … Joe Berrios, assessor.
Property tax attorneys no doubt hope that Berrios will be replaced on the tax appeals board by a like-minded officeholder. Berrios accepts campaign cash from lawyers whose big clients have an uncanny habit of then receiving reductions in their property valuations. It's a zero-sum game: When those building owners pay less, the rest of us pay more.
The job of appointing Berrios' successor on the appeals board falls to Judge Timothy Evans, the head of Cook County's court system. By law, Evans' choice must be a member of Berrios' political party. Democrats, start your applications.
"Personal ethics: Then there's this matter of Joe Berrios, candidate for county assessor. He's a Democrat. So am I. We both live in Cook County. That's where our so-called relationship ends. We're not pals. I'm a lawyer. The firm I work for does property tax appeals. I don't. I don't appear before Berrios or the Cook County property tax appeals board on which he sits, nor have I ever discussed any matters that are in front of him. He may be a lobbyist, but he didn't lobby me on video gaming. I was not in favor of video gaming, preferring a gas tax to pay for construction." - John Cullerton
Forrest Claypool is outpacing Joe Berrios in campaign fundraising in the Cook County assessor’s race.
Since July 1, Claypool has raised more than $720,000, while committees affiliated with Berrios have raised more than $450,000, according to reports filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections.
Through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the Illinois Board of Elections and the Board of Review, the Claypool campaign has gathered and compiled data on the contributors to Joe Berrios' five different campaign funds and cross referenced them with 2009 tax year assessment reductions won at the Board of Review.
According to the study, of the $6.2 billion in assessment cuts awarded by the board this year, 92% (or $5.7 billion) went to those who used a lawyer who has donated to Mr. Berrios. That translates to just under $1 billion in taxes that were shifted to other property owners.
A couple examples of the Democrat's cronyism: The Willis (Sears) Tower, which got a $10.5-million cut was represented by Berrios major donor O'Keefe Lyons & Hynes; and 311 S. Wacker, got a $17 million cut and was represented by the law firm of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Below is a link to the entire Claypool study:
Warning - the data you are about to see is not appropriate for those who don't wish to be exposed to the "real" politics of the Democrat Party in Illinois.
Tuesday's Tribune's piece on "Joe Berrios' bad day" was appropriately frank about Berrios' conflicts of interests, and the Cook County Finance Committee's passage of ethics legislation that was pretty well marked to stop what the Democratic candidate for Assessor Berrios has been doing for years ... As the Tribune lists ...
• Bar auditors, bond bankers and lawyers who do business with the county from making campaign contributions to county officials or candidates. Berrios gets contributions from property tax lawyers.
• Prevent county officials from being paid to lobby any arm of county government.
• Require any candidates for county office, or county elected officials, to return contributions of more than $1,500 in an election cycle from lawyers who appeal tax assessments. Hello again, Mr. Berrios.
• Bar public officials from conducting any type of political activity — or using county resources like offices and phones — while on the county clock.
• Raise maximum fines for violating the county ethics ordinance to $5,000 from $500.
There's definitely a move among Democrats away from Berrios -- the Cook County Democratic Chairman -- and towards face-saving ethics reform and accountability. The Cook County Assessor's race could be the most important race in Illinois next to the Governor's race on November 2.
Cook County Board of Review candidate Dan Patlak has rolled out a short series of YouTubes to answer basic questions about the property tax appeal process in Cook County. With all the controversy surrounding high profile attorneys and the property assessment process, the issue of representation in the process is now center stage.
Patlak is challenging Democratic board member Brendan Houlihan in the BOR district once represented by the only Republican on the board at the time, the late Maureen Murphy.
His video #4 is below the fold ...
Chicago Magazine features a hard-hitting piece on Democratic candidate for Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios, who's also Cook County Democratic Party chairman. An excerpt:
... His campaign coffers reflect hefty contributions from the attorneys who appear before him, presenting more potential conflicts of interest. For example, the Chicago News Cooperative reported in The New York Times that the law firm Crane & Norcross donated more than $143,000 to Berrios over the past decade, and between 2006 and 2008 alone, the firm’s clients received $467.6 million in assessment reductions—second only to Madigan’s law firm, Madigan & Getzendanner, which won the largest total of reductions in that time, $490.4 million.
Overall, the generosity of the property tax bar raises questions about whether the county’s campaign donation limits are being ignored. (See “The Friendly Bar”) And the lawyers contribute in other ways, too: When Berrios is on the ballot, for example, it’s not uncommon to find property tax attorneys standing outside polling places passing out campaign pamphlets on his behalf, even in the frigid winter primary season. “It seems to be a clear conflict of interest to accept campaign contributions and other political assistance from lawyers with such obvious financial stakes in government decision making,” says Andy Shaw, the executive director of the Better Government Association (BGA).
The Cook County state’s attorney is investigating a possible influence-peddling case involving tax appeals that has been linked to Berrios’s office. The case centers on allegations that Paul Froehlich, a Democratic state representative from Schaumburg, worked through close associates of Berrios to win tax reductions for constituents in return for campaign donations. (See “Curious Deals”)
Sometimes all you can do is shake your head with Illinois politics. Other times, you can get mad enough to do something about it. Today's Southtown Star "Always Right" column reviews this past week's news stories about Giannoulias' family bank loaning to convicted felon Tony Rezko and his development partner Iraqi billionaire, Saddam Hussein-associated, Nahdmi Auchi. It also mentions Rod Blagojevich and the contemptuous Coin Operator lobbyist/Cook County Democratic Party Chairman Joe Berrios and House Speaker/IL Democratic Party chairman Mike Madigan twosome.
Giannoulias told a local television reporter this week that it's all D.C. guilt by association. In other words, folks, the whole Giannoulias-Rezko-Auchi-Hussein connection is meaningless. Look the other way, and vote for Alexi to become one of 100 U.S. senators in November.
Right. Shaking your head?
The Daily Herald reports on legislation proposed by House Minority Leader Tom Cross Tuesday that would throw a wrench into Democratic State Party Chairman and House Speaker Mike Madigan and Cook County Democratic Party Chairman and candidate for Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios well-oiled Democratic property tax assessment machine. Madigan, whose property tax law firm appeals before the Board of Review where Berrios has been on the Board of Review since its inception, is the state's most powerful legislative leader, who gets passed legislation Berrios lobbies for major clients, like video poker interests.
Cross' proposal would cut off campaign donations from clients and their attorney with property tac appeal cases before the Board of Review and would ban elected officials from lobbying at the Capitol for private clients. The Daily Herald explains:
After completing an extensive review, the campaign of Joseph Berrios for Assessor has opted not to file an objection to Forrest Claypool's petitions to get on the November ballot as an independent candidate.
This decision was made despite two-thirds of Mr. Claypool's signatures being questionable, as well as one-third of his circulators. The campaign has said from the beginning that, in an effort to protect the integrity of the law, it would thoroughly review Mr. Claypool's signatures. "It would be irresponsible to subject either the public authorities or our opponent to the cost, time and effort of litigation, perhaps all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court," said campaign spokesman Manuel Galvan. "Instead, the campaign asks Mr. Claypool to set aside the insults and empty rhetoric, and pledge to conduct a spirited, fair and clean campaign. The public deserves nothing less."
On the last day of new party filings, Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool submitted petition signatures to be on the November ballot for Cook County Assessor for the Independent Party. But don't assume his name will appear because it won't, if Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Joseph Berrios has his way. Berrios, also the chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party and a registered lobbyist for numerous high-clout clients, says he's challenging Claypool's petitions.
In a press release issued this afternoon referring to Claypool as a "former Democrat," Berrios' campaign said:
Republican candidate for Cook County Board President Roger Keats responded to the Board of Review members' press conference comments Monday (See:"Claypool 10/25 Ordinance" has failed thousands of homeowners, Berrios says") blasting Cook County Assessor Jim Houlihan's "10/25 Ordinance" and his failure to protect Cook County property owners:
Knowing that voters might punish incumbents for the one-two punch of income and property tax increases, Democrats are scrambling for cover. They are looking to point the finger at someone and since Republicans are virtually powerless in Cook County and Illinois, they have to turn that finger at each other.
Concerning the Quinn/Madigan/Berrios 7% tax cap legislation, Keats had three thoughts:
“This is a ponzy scheme Bernie Madoff would be proud of.”
In response to Roger Keats, Andy Shaw and Dick Simpson's press conference Tuesday, the Berrios for Cook County Assessor campaign released this statement:
Statement from Joe Berrios, candidate for Cook County assessor, on proposed legislation announced Tuesday:
"Earlier today, three individuals proposed reforms which would prohibit any Cook County public official from lobbying any unit of government on behalf of an entity other than the county.
"I couldn't agree more. Our current assessor, Jim Houlihan, lobbied for three years as an elected official.
Don't miss today's Sun-Times editorial that encourages independent Forrest Claypool to run for Cook County Assessor -- challenging Board of Reviews' king Joe Berrios. The Sun-Times points to the disgusting arrogance of Joe Berrios, his blatant abuse of power and the campaign system to bully his way into more and more power, all in tandem with another power and campaign system abuser, House Speaker Mike Madigan, Sun-Times writes that Democrat-running-as-Independent Claypool is a tried and proven reformer, but that ...
Berrios, on the other hand, could bathe in fetid Bubbly Creek and climb out looking spiffier.
He sits on the county's Board of Review, where he shamelessly collects political contributions from the very same lawyers looking for tax assessment breaks from the board.
And who are these lawyers?
Many of the biggest tax attorneys in town work for Madigan & Getzendanner, the law firm of Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan.
But wait. It gets worse.
Cook County Assessor James Houlihan accused Joe Berrios of trying to delay the arrival of property tax bills until after the November 2 election. Houlihan is retiring this year, and clout-heavy Berrios - a commissioner on the three-member tax Board of Review - is running for Houlihan's job in the November general election. Berrios is also the chairman of the Cook County Democrat Party and an ally of Illinois Democrat Party Chairman and Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan (photo right).
According to the Tribune, "Houlihan said Berrios is slowing the work of the review board to make sure Cook County voters aren't angered before the election by higher tax bills. A cap on property-tax assessments will end in the city this year and is being phased out in the suburbs. Those caps have have limited property tax increases for many homeowners."
Madigan opposes extending the so-called tax cap, something Houlihan has been asking the General Assembly to do for well more than a year. Madigan makes money as an attorney handling property tax issues in Cook County in addition to his significant taxpayer salary as Speaker and the generous pension benefits the working men and women will be paying to provide for generations to come.
More about Berrios' antics in Illinois Review's special investigation section.
Retiring Cook County Assessor Jim Houlihan apparently is not planning to go gently into that good night.
Mr. Houlihan has called a press conference for Wednesday at which, according to a press release, he will "charge politics" involving "Democratic Party leaders" and make a "significant announcement about the timing of second-installment property tax bills."
Mr. Houlihan's office declines to elaborate.
But it's no secret that he blames Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan for phasing out the 7% cap on annual assessment hikes, and that he is less than thrilled with some decisions by board of (property tax) review Commissioner Joe Berrios.
Mr. Berrios, the Cook County Democratic chairman, is the party's nominee to succeed Mr. Houlihan next year. But retiring county Commissioner Forrest Claypool reportedly is getting close to deciding to run as an independent for assessor.