Running for: Cook County Board of Review, 1st District
Political/civic background: I served as Policy Director and then Deputy Chief of Staff for former Cook County Clerk David Orr, and as Chief Policy Officer for Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi. I led a successful effort to help senior citizens save time and money by passing legislation to automatically renew the senior exemption, instead of forcing seniors to apply for the exemption each year. I previously ran for Cook County Commissioner against the chairman of the Cook County Republican Party.
Occupation: Former Deputy Assessor, full-time Board of Review candidate & Neubauer Civic Scholar at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business
Education: Harvard University ‘11
Neubauer Civic Scholar (MBA Candidate) at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business
Campaign website: rashidforcook.com
As the Cook County assessor moves to make assessments more transparent and reduce the need for appeals, as he has pledged to do, what will you do to reduce the overhead in your office?
Even before appeal volumes drop, as they should, the Board of Review should look to save taxpayer dollars by increasing efficiencies using technology and data to make more accurate and faster determinations. In addition, the Illinois Property Tax Appeals Board (PTAB) backlog related to Cook County has increased overhead for the Board of Review. Reducing this backlog is a potential source of overhead reduction as well.
Over time, as assessments become more accurate, the volume of appeals will decrease, which should result in less overhead. This will likely occur over several years, partly because the Assessor will complete the full cycle of triennial assessments in 2021. In addition, it will take some adjustment to break a culture of habitual appeals. Therefore in the coming few years, we are likely to continue to see high appeal volumes. It will be important for the Board of Review to establish a clear practice that appeals will only be granted based on fair market value—not for any other reason. This is an important step in reducing appeal volumes and overhead.
As a former Deputy Chief of Staff for Cook County Clerk David Orr, my responsibilities included collaborating with multiple stakeholders on the agency’s budget. I have always been guided by values of equity, transparency and efficiency. I will bring that same approach as a Board of Review Commissioner.
The Board of Review historically has been described as a body that greases squeaky wheels — people who file appeals — rather than working more generally to be an arbiter of uniformity in assessments. What’s your view of the board’s proper role?
The Board of Review’s proper role is straightforward: determine whether the Assessor’s valuation of a property is fair, based on the fair market value, and correct the valuation if it is mistaken. These valuations should be based on market averages, not the operating choices made by a property owner, such as the choice to keep a property vacant if the market would otherwise provide a renter. As such, the Board of Review should obtain the best market data available from a variety of sources, including databases such as Trepp.
In the past, people who were dissatisfied with a ruling from the Board of Review could go to court to appeal that decision but had to prove “constructive fraud” —that there had been fraud or gross error in making the original assessment. That standard has been made less stringent. Has this been a change for the better, or has it resulted in too many baseless court appeals? Please explain.
The Assessor and the Board of Review are best equipped to handle valuations and appeals, and courts should be a last resort only when there is gross error or fraud. It is unclear exactly how many appeals cases are in the court system, but given the significant number of appeals at the Board of Review and the Illinois Property Tax Appeals Board, it is likely that there are too many appeals in the courts.
The Board of Review has property valuation professionals and subject matter experts whose function is to prevent courts from being flooded with assessment appeals. The agency’s role is to weigh the evidence and make a proper determination. If a taxpayer is unhappy with the assessment after multiple opportunities to appeal, there should be a stringent but reasonable standard to take the case to court.
Are there too many or few avenues of appeals — the county assessor’s office, the Board of Review, the Illinois Property Tax Appeals Board, the courts — available to property owners? In your view, which avenues should exist?
With an appeals process through the Assessor, the Board of Review, as well as remedies through the courts, it is appropriate to revisit the extent to which the Illinois Property Tax Appeals Board should have jurisdiction over Cook County. PTAB only began to hear cases from Cook County after 1996 legislation. But we should be careful not to unintentionally transfer the PTAB backlog to the courts instead. This would continue to force local governments to wait several years for an outcome and prolong budget instability. Scaling back PTAB jurisdiction over Cook County must be coupled with enforcing a more stringent standard to take cases to court.
The context outside of Cook County may be different due to the unique needs and limited resources in smaller counties.
Should governmental units be given more time to argue that particularly large properties are under-assessed? Please explain.
Yes, they should have more time. Under-assessment of large commercial properties leads to an unfair burden being placed on homeowners and small businesses, and local government should have the appropriate time to mount an informed objection. It could take significant time and resources for local governments to gather the appropriate data, evidence and experts to mount a challenge.
Are staffers fairly distributed among the three Cook County Board of Review commissioners? Please explain.
The current allocation is unfair: staffers should be fairly distributed to all commissioners. At the same time, each commissioner should share equal responsibility for the work of the agency. Ultimately, the Board needs to work together as one agency on behalf of homeowners and taxpayers.
What should be the role of the Cook County Board of Review in providing technical help to school districts and other local taxing bodies when they challenge decisions by the Illinois Property Tax Appeals Board to trim assessments? Please explain.
First, the Board of Review as a matter of course should provide ample documentation about how it arrives at its decisions—including information about capitalization rates, rent, and vacancy. More thorough documentation provides greater transparency to the public and local taxing bodies about the Board’s methodology and assumptions. With this information, local governments are less likely to seek technical support from the Board. Still, the Board should always be a resource for taxing bodies seeking technical assistance. The goal must be fairness and accuracy, and school districts and municipalities are a welcome partner to achieving that goal.
Should you have to be a lawyer to represent someone before the Board of Review? Why or why not?
No, you should not have to be a lawyer. Many other states and jurisdictions outside of Illinois do not require an attorney, but allow other experienced professionals to represent taxpayers. I believe property owners should be able to make their own choice about whether to hire an attorney or another qualified professional. Homeowners could have highly professional representation at a lower cost than many attorneys would likely charge.
Is it acceptable for a member of the Board of Review to work as a lobbyist at any level of government in Illinois? Please explain.
No, it is not acceptable. Elected officials have a duty to represent the interests of their constituents and not any particular interest group.
What historical figure from Illinois, other than Abraham Lincoln (because everybody’s big on Abe), do you most admire or draw inspiration from? Please explain.
Former Chicago Mayor Harold Washington. He built a diverse, multi-racial coalition of communities and leaders to advance the interests of working families and fight corruption. We need his same coalition-building and fighting spirit to address the challenges we’re facing today.
What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?
Stranger Things, because I missed all but five months of the 1980s, and I like to believe that we’ll prevail over the monsters in our own upside down. Also, Hopper is still alive.