Vague accusations about Board of Review may bring closed session

URBANA — Champaign County Board members hope to go into closed session next month to review what for now are vague accusations about problems with the county's board of review.

The three-member board, made up of Democrats Wayne Williams and Laura Sandefur and Republican Steve Bantz, hears complaints from property owners about their property assessments. Originally the county board was to have voted Thursday night on two of the board of review positions, but the votes were deferred so that the full board could hear about what Champaign Democrat Alan Kurtz said was "information I've received that makes me compelled to want to replace all three" members.

Kurtz said the county board needs to go into executive session "so that we might give each and every member of this board" information "on exactly what has taken place here. I'm not going to expand on that information now."

Williams, the chairman of the board of review, said Friday that he was disappointed that only one of the 27 county board members had contacted him and that the obscure charge of problems came out publicly.

"If we were any other employee at the county, there wouldn't be a question as to the proper vein to discuss this. Any other employee, they would have automatically gone into executive session, as they have many times before," Williams said. "It's become clear we're not afforded the same protections as other employees. That's something we have to deal with, I guess."

Williams acknowledged problems at the board of review.

"Any organization can be improved. There's no such thing as a perfect organization, especially in government. I'm happy to have a conversation about how to improve the board of review," he said. "I'm aware there are county board complaints. But there is only one county board member who has talked to me directly about hearing complaints and that was (county board chairman) Pius Weibel."

At Thursday's meeting, Weibel nominated Williams for another term. He did not officially take a stand on Bantz although he had said earlier that he would not nominate him for another term.

"Certainly Mr. Williams has made mistakes in the last two years," Weibel said, adding that he believes Williams was placed into a "difficult situation," becoming chairman of the board of review on his first day.

"I think that says something about the environment he was placed in. I think he deserves another chance to learn more and become a better board of review member," Weibel said.

Accusations of problems at the board of review originated with Kurtz, who said he got his information from Stan Jenkins, the county's supervisor of assessments.

"The supervisor of assessments has a lot of information concerning the board of review. It concerned me and after major study, that's the reason I felt that the board of review should be replaced. All three," he said. "I feel that a fresh start needs to be made and accountability needs to be made at the board of review. I'm not pinpointing any single person."

Kurtz told county board members that he had discussed the problems with Jenkins for a total of five hours.

"Considering there's five hours of information out there and I've got five minutes' worth, there's got to be something else out there that I need to find out about," said Urbana Democrat Tom Betz, arguing for a closed session.

Jenkins said Friday he did not want to discuss the problems at the board of review.

Kurtz said discussing the problems in a closed session was imperative "so that the entire board can get all of the information. Obviously, there was a lot of confusion here tonight. Some were privy to all the information. Some were privy to some. It was piecemeal. I think it's important that each and every member have the opportunity to see what I saw.

"This is above politics. This is above party. This is above gender. This is above any other concerns. This has to do with performance, period.

Board of review members receive $35,992 a year for what is considered a four-day-a-week schedule that allows them to have other jobs. Their work schedule varies during the year with the requirement that they be in the office five days a week from August through December but with much less office time from March through May.

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Keith Hays wrote on May 26, 2012 at 12:05 pm

According to the News-Gazette  "Accusations of problems at the board of review originated with Kurtz, who said he got his information from Stan Jenkins, the county's supervisor of assessments.

"The supervisor of assessments has a lot of information concerning the board of review. It concerned me and after major study, that's the reason I felt that the board of review should be replaced. All three," he said. "I feel that a fresh start needs to be made and accountability needs to be made at the board of review. I'm not pinpointing any single person."

What unspecified "information" Mr. Jenkins provided to Kurtz is unknown.  Now the County Board wants to resolve the issue of replacing the entire Board of Review in a closed session.  Do it that way and you can prevent the voters of the county from ever learning the basis (or, perhaps, lack thereof) for the Jenkins-Kurtz indictment of the entire Board of Review.  

With Mr. Betz holding up the corner, Mr. Kurtz is preparing to sweep the whole matter under the rug in executive session presumiing that there is something there indeed to sweep.  

Deep Thought wrote on May 26, 2012 at 1:05 pm

Tom Kacich's ability to investigate a story are in need of significant improvement and I would like to make a motion that we discuss his performance and whether he should be replaced.  Preferably in a public forum where the voters can hear and understand what is happening.  Some of the basic, but important, facts in this article are erroneous.  Firstly, Wayne Williams was not and is not the chairman of the board of review, he is the co-chair.  Second, the five-day weeks last July through January and the four-day weeks last from February to June.  

Additionally, providing some context to this story is important.  Stan Jenkins is the county's supervisor of assessments, which is a completely seperate entity from the Board of Review.  Mr. Jenkins does not supervise or have authority over the Board of Review.  

I question whether or not it is newsworthy that one politician has accused other politicians of something unkown and mysterious that has caused the County board to investigate and discuss the perfomance of an entity that the County Board should be monitoring regularly to begin with.  Maybe if an investigative reporter could deterimine what these accussations are, if they are true, and what motivations the accuser had to make them, then there would be a real story out there.  

EdRyan wrote on May 26, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Oy vey, Maria!

What a tempest in a chamberpot!

pattsi wrote on May 27, 2012 at 9:05 am

In the spirit of accuacy--the CB has no oversight over the BOR, only appointment authority and budget approval. (This is the case for the CUMTD, UCSD boards, for example, plus county elected officials where the only authority is budgetary.) The BOR budget is not very complex. This is posted on the county web site--though a bit cumbersome to find and read through.  

Read all about the CC BOR here.   http://www.co.champaign.il.us/BOR.htm

Read all about Illinois property tax code, including BOR here  http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/ilstatutes/35/200

Because there is no oversight and in essence the BOR answers to no one, it is difficulty to proceed and needs to be done per advice from the states attorney office. The county pays the salaries, but a major issue has to do with whether these individuals are considered county employees for personnel reasons again since no one oversees their work, work hours, when they are in the office, etc. and/or any discussions concerning the BOR falls under the OMA.

The SOA is responsible for accepting the work of the various assessors within the county. Since the SOA works with the township assessors, this formality is then signed off to the BOR. From that point on, the BOR makes the decisions, as the final arbitrator, on property assessments. Of course, their are several levels of appeal processes--to the BOR, to PTAB, and last, but not least, the court. The SOA provides information for the BOR, but has no oversight. The statute states the SOA is the clerk of the BOR, but there are no duties mentioned.

So making decisions on primary source data is most important. Right now or as of noon yesterday, 6 CB members have had time to become acquainted with such.