Appellate ruling puts Sandefur back on ballot

URBANA — Laura Sandefur is back on the ballot, after an appellate court ruled the Cunningham Township Electoral Board incorrectly disqualified her from running for assessor.

Sandefur has been on and off the ballot a number of times since she originally filed for candidacy as a Democrat in November. Her name already has been printed on absentee ballots as early voting is under way, and she said on Monday that she is very pleased to know that she will make the April 9 ballot, too.

"We fought as hard as we did so that the voters had a choice, and I do think that they have a real choice," Sandefur said.

Her opponent, incumbent Township Assessor Dan Stebbins, still has the option to appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, and he will make that decision on Tuesday. He said on Monday that everyone involved has already spent an enormous amount of time on the objection, and he was leaning toward not filing another appeal.

Sandefur withdrew her original filing as a Democrat in November after she listed the wrong address as her residence, and Stebbins' objection came after she filed again as an independent candidate in December.

Stebbins objected to her candidacy on the grounds that she was a Democrat running as an independent candidate.

A Cunningham Township Electoral Board assembled to hear the objection and ruled that state law rendered some of the signatures on Sandefur's candidacy petition invalid. That put her below the minimum number of signatures needed to get her name on the ballot.

She appealed the decision, and a Champaign County judge last month affirmed the board's decision she was ineligible for the ballot. But after Sandefur appealed that decision, too, an appellate court ruled on Friday that the electoral board misinterpreted state law and incorrectly kicked her off the ballot.

Now, Sandefur said she is ready to truly kick off her campaign three weeks before the election, and she thinks her background as a licensed real estate appraiser and five-time appointed member of the Champaign County Board of Review qualifies her to take a second look at what she thinks are questionably high assessments.

"I'm trained to be independent, impartial and to get the values right without bias or an agenda," Sandefur said.

Stebbins believes his record has earned him re-election: He said he hired a new staff at lower pay, and with that savings, he bought a new computer system for the office and updated property records.

He said he has worked hard to lower assessments where they should be lowered, and he believes he has ensured that everyone is treated fairly.

"Being on the board of review, you're able to pinpoint and say, 'This one's too high, let's lower it,'" Stebbins said. "But (as assessor) you have to do the whole neighborhood."

The values of each neighborhood, Stebbins said, are largely up to the market and out of his control.

"Not only have we been trying to fairly assess, we have to treat everyone the same way," he said.

Sandefur thinks the assessor should be working harder to more accurately value properties and make homeowners aware of their rights when they think their assessment is too high.

"People don't realize that they have recourse on their property tax valuations," Sandefur said. "Many homeowners get that notice in the mail, and they just roll with it."

She said it was "disturbing" to watch as a member of the board of review.

"I watched that stuff pick up time after time after time," she said. "And I think there needs to be a lot more attention paid to it."

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