URBANA – At one end of the Brookens Administrative Center, Curt Deedrich, a 44-year-old Pesotum farmer and multitownship township assessor, was smiling for the television cameras after narrowly being appointed to a four-year term as Champaign County supervisor of assessments.
"It's going to be an honor and a privilege to serve Champaign County," he said, just before being sworn in to the $55,000-per-year job.
At the other end, a tearful Paula Bates, chief deputy supervisor of assessments for the past five years and an 11-year veteran of the office, was packing up her belongings into cardboard boxes. Downcast supporters commiserated with her.
"I'm gone," said Bates, who had been asked by Deedrich to stay on as chief deputy. "It's a travesty to me that I've worked for so long. ... I don't know what to say. I deserved the job and didn't get it."
Bates' legion of supporters, about 40 of whom packed the Champaign County Board chambers, fell one vote short when it came to the county board. Following a lengthy debate Thursday night, the board voted 14-13 to approve the nomination of Deedrich.
The vote was largely partisan, with the board's 11 Republicans all opposed to Deedrich. Democrats Steve Beckett of rural Urbana and Kevin Brumback of Champaign joined with the Republicans. The board's other 14 Democrats voted for Deedrich.
The supervisor of assessments position is supposedly nonpartisan in Champaign County, but that seemed to change this winter after six-year incumbent Bonnie Vaughn announced that she was taking advantage of an early retirement program offered by the county.
The county administration initially proposed a search committee be created, but board Democrats, citing state law, said the duty of nominating a successor fell to Patricia Avery, the county board chairwoman.
Avery last week nominated Deedrich, who has served since 1989 as the elected multitownship assessor for Pesotum and Crittenden townships in southern Champaign County.
Deedrich also tenant farms about 1,000 acres and has been working full time as an account technician for the University of Illinois Foundation.
Deedrich was elected township assessor as a Democrat and he also served as campaign chairman for Michael Frerichs' two unsuccessful campaigns for state representative in 1998 and 2000.
While less politically active than Deedrich, Bates said she had attempted, unsuccessfully, to secure the Republican nomination at a township caucus to run against Deedrich as multitownship assessor.
Bates enjoyed the support of most of the county's township assessors – including Democrat Joanne Chester, the Cunningham Township assessor – and gained the support of countywide elected officials who are involved in the property tax cycle process, including Vaughn, Champaign County Treasurer Dan Welch, Champaign County Recorder Barb Frasca and Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden. All are Republicans.
Vaughn warned that learning the duties of the supervisor of assessment's position is not a quick process and that early retirements at the state level have minimized the assistance that the Illinois Department of Revenue can provide.
"It is the responsibility of the county to appoint a supervisor of assessments with the experience to complete the tax cycle," Vaughn said.
Bates, in a brief statement to the county board before the vote, cited her 11 years of experience and her more than 300 hours of assessment classroom education. She is also a licensed property appraiser, supporters noted.
Welch said the county has a long history of promoting chief deputies to top positions, either through election or appointment.
He also cited the value of experience.
With property tax bills mailed out this past week, "it is quite common for taxpayers to need the services of both of our offices in the same visit," the county treasurer said. "These taxpayers expect our offices to be coordinated and fully prepared to help them with all of their concerns. They deserve the best service we can provide."
But county board member Robert Kirchner, D-Urbana, derided the notion that employees should only be promoted from within. He said Shelden, the county clerk, and State's Attorney John Piland, both Republicans, were both appointed to their current positions before being elected and neither worked in the office before being named the head official.
"There are some who say these two appointments worked out very well, but they certainly weren't promoted from within," Kirchner said.
County board member Jennifer Putman, D-Urbana, cited how Avery had conducted an open interview process.
She said previous Republican county board chairs had promoted from within without any interviews or just cursory ones.
"If it weren't for the outcome of the 2000 election (when Democrats won control of the county board), then Curt Deedrich need not have applied," Putman said. "The door just didn't open for Democrats."
Deedrich said party affiliation isn't a concern after he takes the oath of office.
"Once elected, I promise to perform the job," he said. "I take an oath that is to all the residents of Champaign County."
Deedrich said he plans some changes for the office, but said they would be implemented gradually and he did not elaborate.
He said he hoped all of the office's eight employees stay on and he said his offer to Bates to continue as chief deputy still stands.
"I've known her for years," he said. "I've known her abilities."
The supervisor of assessments offices coordinates the work of the county's 19 township assessors and enters current assessments into the permanent record. The office also calculates township multipliers, based on the three previous years of property sales, to ensure that property is assessed at one-third of actual value.
The office also enters tax exemptions into the record and plays an important role in getting property tax bills out on time.
You can reach Mike Monson at (217) 351-5370 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.