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Schillerstrom now appealing tax cases to board members he appointed

Robert Schillerstrom served as elected chairman DuPage County Board for 12 years. Now he's lawyer who files property tax appeals

Robert Schillerstrom served as the elected chairman of the DuPage County Board for 12 years. Now he's a lawyer who files property tax appeals before the three-member DuPage Board of Review — each of whom he appointed or re-appointed. | Rich Hein~Sun-Tim

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Updated: November 10, 2012 6:05AM

The three members of the DuPage County Board of Review — a government panel that handles property tax appeals from home and business owners — were appointed or reappointed by Robert Schillerstrom during his 12-year stint as DuPage County Board chairman.

Now a lawyer in private practice, Schillerstrom’s income depends on decisions made by those same people — raising conflict-of-interest questions on both sides of the equation, the Better Government Association found.

Schillerstrom left his elected post in 2010 after an unsuccessful Republican bid for governor. The next year he launched a property tax appeals practice for his Indianapolis-based law firm, Ice Miller LLP. The practice is based in Lisle and focuses, in part, on tax appeals before the DuPage Board of Review.

He’s had success, winning nearly all of his cases and getting tax breaks for his clients that in many instances exceeded the countywide average, a BGA analysis found.

There is no restriction preventing Schillerstrom from doing business through the Board of Review, according to the DuPage County state’s attorney’s office.

Schillerstrom, county board chairman from 1998 to 2010, said good lawyering, not politics, is behind his success.

“I do it the right way and I’m good at it,” he says.

Board of Review members, two of whom donated money to Schillerstrom’s campaign fund in past years, insist they aren’t showing favoritism.

“He can’t do us any favors — he’s gone,” said member Charles Van Slyke Jr.

“We’re making decisions based on evidence,” said another member, Carl Peterson. “It would be erroneous to think we give him special consideration.”

The third member, Anthony Bonavolonta, said if Schillerstrom were still the county board chairman, the Board of Review would not be hearing his cases. But now that Schillerstrom has left county government, “You can’t stop a guy from making a living.”

“I treat him like I treat everyone else,” he added.

Schillerstrom, 60, is following something of a tradition in the world of Chicago area politics.

Powerful political figures such as House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) and Ald. Edward Burke (14th) also are attorneys who work on property tax appeals on the side.

Over the past year or so, Schillerstrom filed appeals on behalf of 15 commercial and residential property owners in DuPage, winning a reduction in all but one of the cases, according to county data.

On the residential appeals side, the taxable value of his clients’ properties declined by an average of 22.5 percent, compared with 15.3 percent for all other homeowners. On the commercial side, his clients’ average reduction was 20.1 percent, compared with 19.65 percent for all other owners of commercial, industrial and multifamily properties, according to the analysis.

Overall, this meant properties owned by Schillerstrom’s clients saw their taxable value reduced $3.2 million, collectively saving them more than $220,000 on their real estate taxes. Schillerstrom’s firm got a cut of the savings, but he refused to say how much. He also said his success rate may have been so high, in part, because he cherry-picked winnable cases.

In DuPage, property owners can appeal their assessments annually. They are encouraged to first meet with their township assessor’s office, which helps determine how much residential and commercial owners pay in property taxes.

The assessor and the appellant may reach a settlement, which must be approved by the Board of Review. Otherwise an owner can file an appeal directly with the board.

In 11 of his 15 cases, Schillerstrom and an assessor came to terms and the board approved the agreement. In three cases, the board unilaterally reduced the taxable value. In one instance, a client’s taxable value was kept the same.

All three Board of Review members — Van Slyke, Peterson and Bonavolonta — have been on the board since the late 1990s. Van Slyke was appointed by Schillerstrom, and all three were reappointed more than once by Schillerstrom.

They are paid more than $40,000 a year for their part-time jobs, plus benefits that include a taxpayer-funded pension down the road if they meet certain criteria.

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