*EDITOR’S NOTE: Candidates submitted their own biographies
I have lived in the Oak Park-River Forest area for most of my life. I graduated from OPRF High School in 1984 and then moved to Iowa for seven years, where I graduated from Grinnell College and the University of Iowa Law School. Since 1991, I have lived in Oak Park.
My father started investing in local real estate when I was a kid, and I have been involved in the management of family-owned properties for many years. My real estate background led to a focus on real estate law after graduating from law school, and these skills, coupled with my life-long interest in public service, prompted me to run for Oak Park Township Assessor in 2001.
I have now been Oak Park’s assessor for twenty years, during which time I have helped residents file thousands of tax appeals and obtain millions of dollars in tax refunds. The highlights of my time as assessor include working with Senator Don Harmon to change state laws regarding referendums and senior tax exemptions, winning the Wednesday Journal’s Villager of the Year award in 2007, and being named Assessor of the Year in 2012 by the Illinois Assessors Association.
My mother, who taught Spanish and encouraged my love of the language, had an unexpected impact of my professional life in 2002. Berwyn’s elected assessor died that year, and I was appointed to be Berwyn’s interim Township Assessor in part because of my fluency in Spanish. I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to use my language skills to help the large immigrant community in Berwyn.
In 2008, my colleagues elected me President of the Cook County Township Assessors Association, a position I still hold. My role as President primarily involves educating township assessors and their staffs about the intricacies of Cook County’s complex tax system.
After twenty years on the job, I have seen that Oak Park’s expensive property taxes can bring stress to local residents. But dealing with taxes need not always be serious and stressful. Part of the reason I have served for so long as Oak Park’s assessor and as President of the assessors association is that I try to relieve tax-related stress with humor. This has led to the unofficial motto of my office: “We Make Taxes Fun!”
Why are you seeking reelection?
The Cook County tax system is very important to the financial lives of local residents, but it can be confusing. I am seeking re-election because I enjoy using my skills in law and real estate to help local residents navigate our complicated property tax system.
What experience do you have, outside of previously holding this office, that makes you qualified to serve as assessor?
Township assessors help local residents file tax appeals, and my experience as a lawyer is very useful when it is necessary to make legal arguments in support of an appeal. My legal experience also helps answer the frequent questions my office gets from buyers, sellers or their lawyers about how property taxes should be apportioned at real estate closings.
How did your tenure as assessor positively impact the residents of Oak Park?
I have written numerous tax-related articles on public policy issues so that residents and government officials can make informed decisions about tax referendums and tax policy. In addition, my office provides individualized tax services to local residents at no cost. These services include help with appeals, tax exemptions and tax refunds.
How will you improve on your performance, if reelected?
I would like to improve my office’s electronic communication with residents about the opening of tax appeal periods and other important tax matters.
Considering the severe economic impacts of COVID-19, what do you consider the biggest challenges ahead for residents and taxing bodies?
The economic impact of Covid-19 has been minimal for some yet catastrophic for others. I am hopeful that the American Rescue Plan that Congress recently approved will help local governments recover some of the economic losses they have incurred due to the pandemic, and will provide financial assistance for residents adversely impacted by Covid-19.
How has working with Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi been different than working with other county assessors?
The Cook County Assessor’s office has jurisdiction over 1.8 million properties, but is chronically understaffed. Since I took office in 2001 there have been three county assessors, but for the most part my work as Oak Park Township Assessor has not directly involved the county assessor. Instead, I typically work with employees and managers of the assessor’s office, focusing on the tax problems of individual residents. Although these staffers try to be helpful, individualized problem-solving can be challenging when dealing with a large county agency, and I have found that this challenge has not changed much over the last twenty years.