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The Berrios vacancy

Monday, November 08, 2010
Chicago Tribune
by Chicago Tribune editorial staff

Joe Berrios won election Tuesday as Cook County assessor. He'll leave the county Board of Review — his appeals board's formal name — to take the new gig. After which the appeals board on which Berrios now sits will affirm or reject the property valuations of … Joe Berrios, assessor.

Property tax attorneys no doubt hope that Berrios will be replaced on the tax appeals board by a like-minded officeholder. Berrios accepts campaign cash from lawyers whose big clients have an uncanny habit of then receiving reductions in their property valuations. It's a zero-sum game: When those building owners pay less, the rest of us pay more.

The job of appointing Berrios' successor on the appeals board falls to Judge Timothy Evans, the head of Cook County's court system. By law, Evans' choice must be a member of Berrios' political party. Democrats, start your applications.

Berrios has dominated the three-member tax appeals board, which needs an infusion of businesslike efficiency and modern technology. Evans can make a hugely positive change in this powerful if obscure backwater: Whomever he appoints will join another new board member, Republican Dan Patlak, who formerly worked at the board and has served as Wheeling Township assessor. On Tuesday, Patlak ousted incumbent Democrat Brendan Houlihan. The third board member, Democrat Larry Rogers Jr., has two years left in his term.

Regular Dems likely will press Evans to select someone who'll protect Berrios — he runs the county Democratic Party — by not aggressively second-guessing his office's property valuations. We hope Evans instead chooses someone with Patlak's strong background in assessment to replace Berrios. Installing another Democratic insider could worsen this office's already dismal reputation as a pay-to-play haven, and further delay the tech overhaul it needs.

Evans told us Friday that he's looking not only for someone who is fair and impartial, but who is willing to lower or raise property valuations if that's what a review of the numbers dictates. That will rattle lawyers who reflexively file appeals regardless of the merits.

Judge Evans, you'll draw a lot of attention with this appointment. Please make it on behalf of taxpayers who need more fairness in property valuations — not on behalf of tax attorneys who want someone to accept their donations and smile on their clients.

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