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Editorial: Tax bills? Yes. Reform from Board of Review official: No.

Monday, August 20, 2012
Chicago Sun-Times

It’s always tempting to feel a bit outraged when those semiannual Cook County property tax bills show up in the mail, as they did a bit more than a month ago.

No one likes a big tax bill.

But what’s really outrageous is the cavalier attitude of the people who calculate those bills toward how they run their offices.

Property taxes affect every property owner in the county and, indirectly, those who rent. All those people have an interest in tax bills that are as fair and even-handed as possible.

But it’s hard to feel confident those bills are fair when some officeholders won’t give the time of day to the very idea of avoiding conflicts of interest.

We were reminded of that again Monday by the Chicago Sun-Times “Watchdogs” report by Dan Mihalopoulos that self-proclaimed reformer Larry Rogers Jr. had employed his half-brother for years at the Cook County Board of Review, where Rogers is one of three part-time commissioners. The board rules on property tax appeals.

The county’s ethics ordinance says county officials can’t “employ or advocate for employment” a relative. But try telling that to Rogers or to County Assessor Joseph Berrios.

Berrios hired his son and his sister soon after winning the assessor’s seat in 2010. Previously, he had them on his staff at the Board of Review. As for Rogers, besides his half-brother, who resigned a month ago, he hired the son of a partner in Rogers’ law firm.

The county ethics board ordered Berrios to pay a $10,000 fine and take his relatives off the payroll. But Berrios shrugs that off, pointing to an opinion from the Cook County state’s attorney’s office that the ethics panel doesn’t have authority over independently elected officials.

Try using a technicality like that to get out of paying your property taxes.

Although he’s running unopposed for re-election, Rogers has been asking supporters to write letters to newspapers extolling Rogers’ reform credentials.

Give us a break. We’ll all start extolling Rogers’ reform credentials when he acts like a reformer.

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