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Board of Review District 1, Republican Primary

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The questions

All candidates were invited to respond to questionnaires, although not all chose to participate. Click on a candidate's name to see the unedited response to each question.

Biographical information & experience
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    ALL
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    Morrison
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    Patlak
Morrison
Birthdate: 8/8/1967
Occupation: Founder and CEO, Morrison Security, Inc.
Marital status: Married
Spouse: Lora

Education:

I attended college to pursue a degree in accounting but left to dedicate myself to running my companies. Today, my company, Morrison Security is one of the leading security firms in Illinois and employs more than 1,000 people. We do pro-bono work with the Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force and also with LEADS Organization, a community organization that we work with to find and save missing persons and exploited children.

Civic, professional, fraternal or other affiliations:

Member, American Society of Industrial Security
Pro-bono work Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force
LEADS Organization for missing and exploited children
Member, Lumen Cordium Society

Have you held elective or appointive political office or been employed by any branch of government?

No prior positions in elective or appointive public or party offices. However, I was nominated in 2007 to serve as a Delegate from the State of Illinois at the House Republican Trust Candidates' Convention.

Please list jobs or contracts you, members of your immediate family or business partners have had with government.

My father, several uncles and cousins are retired Chicago firefighters. My grandfather and several uncles are also retired Chicago police officers.

Patlak
Birthdate: 3/13/1962
Occupation: Cook County
Marital status: Married-11 years
Spouse: Dulce Patlak

Education:

Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, Valparaiso University
Certified Illinois Assessing Officer
Licensed Real Estate Broker 1986-Present
Graduate of the Real Estate Institute (GRI)

Civic, professional, fraternal or other affiliations:

Parishioner, St. Joseph the Worker Church
Knight of Columbus Regina Council-4th degree
International Associationof Assessing Officers
North Shore Barrington Association of Realtors
Illinois Association of Realtors
National Association of Realtors
Republicans of Wheeling Township
New Trier Regular Republican Organization
Elk Grove Regular Republican Organization
Schaumburg Township Republican Organization
Hanover Township Republican Organization
Taxpayers United of America
National Taxpayers Union

Have you held elective or appointive political office or been employed by any branch of government?

Commissioner, Cook County Board of Review 2010-Present
Wheeling Township Assessor 2006-2010
Analyst-Cook County Board of Review 1999-2006
Board Member-East Maine School District 63 1995-1997

Please list jobs or contracts you, members of your immediate family or business partners have had with government.

Commissioner, Cook County Board of Review December 2010-Present
Wheeling Township Assessor 2006-2010
Analyst-Cook County Board of Review 1999-2006

Campaign information
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    ALL
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    Morrison
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    Patlak
Morrison

Campaign headquarters: 12334 S. Keeler Alsip, Illinois 60803
Website: www.seanmorrisongop.com
Campaign manager: Laura Grock
Campaign budget: My estimated campaign budget for 2011-2012 is $150,000.
Name your five biggest campaign contributors and the amount they contributed.
More than 90% of my opponent's contributions or more than $300,000 come from the very property tax attorneys that appear before him at the Cook County Board of Review. That is why I plan - primarily - to self-fund my campaign.

In addition to my personal contributions, my three largest campaign contributors to date are Liz for the 17th, $1000; Township of Orland Park, $1500; and Constanza Insurance, $1000.

Patlak

Campaign headquarters: None
Website: www.ElectPatlak.com
Campaign manager: Ken Jochum
Campaign budget: $100,000+
Name your five biggest campaign contributors and the amount they contributed.
Republican Renaissance PAC-$33,500
John O. Roeser-$20,000
Realtor Political Action Committee-$16,677
Elizabeth Budworth-$8,000
Bob Buford-$7,750

This list includes the previous general election and primary election cycles as well as the upcoming primary election.

Critics say that because Board of Review commissioners are elected and have to be re-elected, there's a tendency for them to grant tax relief to property owners who file. Do you see this as a problem, and if so, how do you plan to deal with it?
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    ALL
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    Morrison
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    Patlak
Morrison

I do see it as a problem but one that can be solved by measures to improve transparency. First, I think that there needs to be a comprehensive online database of all tax appeals. We need to have it for individual properties and commercial properties and a way to flag assessments reduced by $100,000 or more. Secondly, this concern also comes down to the individual commissioner and their track record on ethics. We have to elect people who do not grant tax appeals based on political and partisan concerns. Thirdly, we need to cap contributions by those who do business with the Cook County Board of Review.

However, we also need to continue to inform taxpayers of their right to appeal through inexpensive technology and social media measures. I believe that we need to have a liaison at the Cook County Board of Review whose purpose is to reach out to taxpayers. We should include property appeal information with the tax bills and also record property tax assessment seminars on video and post the video for all taxpayers to access at their convenience on the Cook County Board of Review website.

But, unfortunately, there is a much larger problem at the Cook County Board of Review. For too long, Commissioners have accepted political contributions from the very tax attorneys that appear before them. My opponent has aggressively solicited contributions from property tax attorneys that appear before him seeking reductions and sent out a mailer to these attorneys and law firms requesting $5,000 contributions. Through September 2011, Commissioner Patlak raised more than $361,000, 90% of which came from these very property tax attorneys.

This smacks of pay-to-play politics at its worst and it needs to stop. If we have Cook County commissioners who aggressively solicit and receive more than 90% of their contributions from property tax attorneys, like my opponent does, we have to assume that some are receiving an unfair advantage.

I propose that we cap the contributions of property tax attorneys who do business with the Cook County Board of Review to $250.

Patlak

The role of the Board of Review is to adjudicate appeals from property owners who believe they are assessed inappropriately. Commissioners are charged with assuring the professional and just review of each appeal without regard to its origination and I work hard to ensure that my staff does its work correctly. As a quasi-judicial body the Board of Review is not unlike a court which must work in an environment of blind justice, consequently commissioners very much like elected judges must not allow themselves to be influenced by political considerations.

The only tendency at the Board of Review is to do what is justified based on the evidence which is available. The number or percentage of reductions granted by the Board of Review is not influenced by political considerations.

The Board of Review has been criticized for giving larger amounts of relief to businesses than to homeowners. In the past, the difference has been estimated as $3 of relief for commercial property for every $1 for homeowners. Do you consider this a problem? If so, what would you do to rectify that?
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    ALL
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    Morrison
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    Patlak
Morrison

I believe this is a serious problem. I think that in all cases where an assessment reduction of $100,000 or more is granted that local taxing bodies should have a period where they can file a rebuttal to that decision. I also believe that there needs to be a verification unit at the Cook County Board of Review. As to the verification unit, there are many situations where commercial properties are appealed and reductions granted based on false information i.e. no occupancy where the development is 100% occupied. By employing 1-2 people (or shifting current employees to this role) to verify key factual data on significant properties up for review, we could stop some of the abuses within the property tax appeal system in Cook County.

I also believe that we should classify properties of a certain size and location in a databasing system and devise a method to spot properties that may be undervalued. When a commercial property is given an unfairly reduced assessment, all the homeowners in Cook County are paying the price.

Patlak

A major portion of my platform in the 2010 campaign was that I would serve as a Republican firewall against any potential favoritism being applied by a Democrat controlled Board of Review toward assessment appeals regardless of the type of property, who the property owner knows, contributes to or is represented by. Lest there be any doubt about my commitment to that endeavor, every appeal file at the Board is saved for five years and is available for review by the public, media and good government groups through the filing of a simple freedom of information request. Since my swearing in thirteen months ago, there have been no scandals at the Board and no accusations of foul play from any reputable sources. Property owners whether they be commercial or residential who appeal to the Board have a reasonable expectation that their case will be judged on its merits. Commercial property tends to be much more valuable than residential property so errors in assessed value and subsequent relief granted by the Board tend to be larger as well. Assessment reductions granted by the Board are based on the evidence that is presented by the appellants and available to the Board. In order to provide a check and balance, each appeal to the Board is reviewed by one analyst from each of the Commissioners staffs. In order for a reduction to be granted, two out of three analysts must agree that a reduction is warranted. The mission of the Board of Review is to make sure that property owners who appeal are assessed correctly and pay no more than their fair share of taxes regardless of the type of property being appealed. The Board does not limit or increase assessment reductions based on the type of property being appealed.

The year, the Cook County Board gave extra money to the Board of Review to ensure that property tax bills will go out on time. What will you do to make sure that happens?
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    ALL
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    Morrison
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    Patlak
Morrison

In this instance, the Cook County Board did give extra money to the Board of Review to ensure that the assessment process would proceed in a timely manner. This was only supposed to be a temporary fix. Moreover, due to a shift in assessment practice, some projections suggest that there will be a 10% or more decrease in filings for 2011. If the Board's actions are not temporary and more money is budgeted to ensure property tax bills go out on time, that is an indication that the Board of Review is not operating efficiently.

Currently, available technologies are not being utilized at the Cook County Board of Review. Utilizing new technologies and streamlining internal processes are also key to ensuring that this does not happen again in the future.

Patlak

The Board of Review did not receive extra money from the County Board this year. The President's office originally recommended that the BoR's budget ceiling for fiscal year 2012 be $6.5 million. The BoR's initial budget request was $8.4 million with the assurance that the BoR would finish its 2011 assessment year appeals early enough to allow the Treasurer, Clerk and Illinois Department of Revenue to do their jobs so that tax bills could be mailed out by the statutorily required date of July 1. The County Board along with the President's office subsequently agreed to provide the BoR with a budget of $7.7 million, which represents a decrease from the fully loaded cost of the Board for operations this year compared to last year.

The commissioners of the BoR have mapped out a schedule that provides for our office to finish its work by the end of April, thus allowing 60 days or more for the other taxing offices to compute, print and mail tax bills by July 1st.

In addition, one efficiency we have added at the Board is On-Line Appeals which became available on September 6, 2011. As of mid-December, forty-nine percent of cases filed at the Board for the current appeal year have been filed on line. This has allowed our office to save money on paper complaint forms as well as reduce man hours spent entering data from paper complaints.

What do you plan to do to improve transparency in how the board arrives at its decisions?
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    ALL
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    Morrison
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    Patlak
Morrison

As a business owner, and a technology and security expert, I understand both the business and tax aspects of the office and how to improve efficiency and streamline costs using the latest technology available.

Technology is the key to improving transparency at the Board of Review and ensuring an efficient process to determine when public officials are being unduly influenced by outside interests. For instance, I recently submitted a FOIA request to the Cook County Board of Review and all three of my requests were turned down. We requested the average commercial assessment reduction per township in 2010 and for class 2 properties but that information is not tracked by Cook County. We need to review the current databasing system of tracking properties and assessments and determine better ways to store, track, and make available this information.

Patlak

Fulfilling a pledge I made in the 2010 election campaign, I am the first full time commissioner at the Board of Review and take an active role in the Board's operations. Our office has already taken several initiatives to improve transparency in general including how we arrive at our decisions:
• Educating taxpayers was a key plank in my campaign one year ago. Therefore we have provided formal two hour tours of the Board to 27 of 30 suburban township assessors and their staffs. These tours include a formal power point presentation, question and answer sessions with our single family residential, condo and exempt property analysts and a physical tour of our offices and hearing room. Now, township assessors can share what they have learned with taxpayers who seek help from their local assessor.
• Since my swearing-in December 2010 my staff and I have conducted over sixtyy Assessment Appeal Seminars throughout my district which includes all or part of 28 townships and two Chicago Wards. I have been the presenter at all but three of those seminars teaching thousands of taxpayers how to prepare and file an appeal. This program has been met with approval by the public and we will continue as long as I am serving at the Board.
• My political web, site ElectPatlak.com includes an Education Center that has an “Ask Dan” section where questions from taxpayers about the Board can be asked and answered. We have also created short video answers to common questions. The Education Center includes additional pages where taxpayers can learn about property Exemptions and links to various county and state taxing offices.
• We have produced the first joint Board of Review Annual Report which details the duties of the Board along with statistical information on assessment appeals, budgeting, staff and reductions granted.
• One of my staff members has served for the past year as Freedom of Information officer at the Board. He created the first FOIA page for the Board's web site so residents can now read about how to file a Freedom of Information Request and then follow up by contacting the FOIA officer by e-mail with their request.
• A standard handout at the Board about how to prepare an appeal has been updated and improved.
• With many years of experience as a Township Assessor, a real estate broker and a analyst at the Board, I understand the need to continually educate the taxpayer in the assessment process and to that end I have been involved with many groups including the Farm Bureau, Realtors and others to educate their memberships and advocate for the taxpayer.
• The Board is currently working on a project to digitalize Board files. One benefit is that those files will be more accessible for review by the public.

Will you accept campaign contributions from employees in your office?
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    ALL
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    Morrison
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    Patlak
Morrison

No, I will not.

Patlak

This is a very important question. As a public official I believe that we must be completely transparent about campaign contributions and all of my contributions are open for the public to review. It is important to note that no contributions from employees, customers or others will be funneled thru any privately held business. I have not and will not accept contributions from employees and do not have a private business through which to funnel unaccounted contributions from employees or customers thereby avoiding potential conflicts of interest.

The race
The candidates
Sean M. Morrison
Dan Patlak
The office

The Board of Review oversees an property-tax appeal process for Cook County taxpayers. The three-member board has the power to set the final valuation of properties in Cook County.

The district
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