Lake County Board committees back opposition to putting assessor's post on November ballot
By Frank Abderholden
Two committees of the Lake County Board voted Wednesday to ask Gov. Bruce Rauner to exercise his amendatory veto of legislation that would allow a referendum in November on whether the chief county assessor should be an elected position.
The resolution, which passed through the financial and administrative committee and an ad hoc legislative committee, still has to pass through the full County Board on July 10. It calls on the governor to place the question on the ballot at the very next election period, but include the 60 other counties like Lake County that have a peer-elected chairman of the county board and appointed assessor.
State Rep. Sam Yingling, D-Grayslake, the sponsor of SB 2544, criticized the decision. For weeks, he has been using canvassing, robocalls and commercials to urge residents to call Rauner or send him a message in support of the bill, which would put the question on the Nov. 6 ballot.
“It’s disappointing, but not surprising, that some members of the Lake County Board are attempting to thwart the grassroots campaign to bring accountability to the office of the Lake County assessor,” Yingling said in a statement.
“I’m proud to be part of a grassroots campaign that is activating taxpayers across Lake County. When I’ve gone door to door in my district, constituents have been clear: the status quo is not working, and they want the governor to sign SB 2544,” he added in the statement. The bill was passed with bipartisan support and a supermajority, which could override a veto.
During Wednesday’s legislative committee meeting, there was a tie, with County Board members Paul Frank and Jeff Werfel voting no, and Mike Rummel and Diane Hewitt voting yes. Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor broke the tie in favor of the amendatory veto resolution.
More than two dozen people showed up at the meeting and stayed for the financial and administrative committee meeting, where the proposal passed unanimously. Everyone who spoke supported the referendum and wanted the County Board to support it as well.
“We have an opportunity to increase democracy in Lake County,” said Susan Malter of Lincolnshire. She also chided the committee members about worrying about the other counties.
“That’s disingenuous,” she said, “Let’s just be concerned with Lake County.”
Bill Morris said he was representing more than a dozen people from the Carillion North community in Grayslake, a community for people 55 and older. The former state senator and Waukegan mayor said that adopting an opposition resolution “is like a dagger” in the referendum’s heart, because whether it is vetoed outright or changed with an amendatory veto, the legislature is not due to reconvene until after the November election.
Lawlor said the legislature could easily reconvene, which it has a right to do, and override the amendatory veto.
“Please put this on the ballot. Don’t hide behind political mumbo jumbo,” he said.
At the first committee meeting, Morris said that Martin Paulson, the county’s current chief assessor, had over-assessed Carillion North properties the last two years and, while it was adjusted the first year, this year residents were told to file individual appeals to get it changed.
“Adding in other Illinois counties will effectively kill the legislation, denying Lake County voters the opportunity to express themselves this November,” he said.
Lawlor argued that the legislation was passed with political trickery by gutting a bill and inserting the proposal in it so it could be approved in the waning days of the legislative session.
He said the legislature did not follow its own process with a proper hearing on the issue. Lawlor and other board members complained that Yingling asked them to support the bill, but delayed showing them the actual language of the proposal.
Mike Rummel, chairman of the financial and administrative committee, said he saw the move by Yingling and some of the township assessors as an attack on Paulson, a county employee, and that was why he supported the amendatory veto resolution.
“That’s my issue. I’m standing by my employee,” he said.
Board member Steve Carlson said this was a political game started by a state representative who did a poll and found an issue to run with.
“You are not going to get a reduction in your taxes through an elected assessor,” Carlson said, adding he also disliked that the “dysfunctional state legislature” was going to tell the county with a Triple A bond rating how to run its business.
“I’m tired of the state legislature telling us what to do,” he said.
Board member Judy Martini, who was in the audience, weighed in with support for the referendum in November, saying, “It’s time to give the stakeholders a final say. We need to move forward.”
John Barrington, president of the Lake County Township Assessors Association, said township assessors are accountable to the people of Lake County.
“That improves our relationship with the communities we serve. We know that if we don’t treat taxpayers with the respect they deserve, they have the ability to fire us on election day. Taxpayers deserve to decide if they want that same level of accountability to apply to the Lake County assessor,” he said in a statement.
But Carlson also claimed that Yingling and other legislators see this as the beginning of getting rid of township assessors and township government.
“Be careful what you ask for,” he said.
Chicago lawyers volunteer to help families separated at border
By Alison Bowen Contact Reporter
Chicago attorneys are mobilizing to help immigrant children who have been separated from their families at the southern border.
Kristen Harris, Chicago chapter president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said she has been fielding inquiries from Chicago-area lawyers eager to volunteer their time.
“The legal community in Chicago is really a markedly special community,” she said. “There’s an overall concern and passion for justice generally, which means that when there are instances of injustice, the community is quick to respond.”
She said she has heard from not only immigration attorneys, but also lawyers of all specialties who want to be trained and to help.
“We’re pretty far from the southern border, but in the hearts of Chicagoans, it is an important issue, and it is not located thousands of miles away; it’s located with the children here,” Harris said.
Last week, the Chicago nonprofit Heartland Alliance confirmed it is housing 66 immigrant children who were separated from their parents and sent to facilities here.
Detention centers where families are held have long needed improvement, Harris added. A 2016 Government Accountability Office report recounted concerns about the conditions and overall time in custody at holding facilities. The ACLU and Chicago law students recently found hundreds of incidents of alleged abuse of children in documents recounting children’s cases from 2009 to 2014 at border facilities.
“It is very, very disheartening, to say the least, that an already bad situation has actually become worse,” she said.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth announced Monday that she and other senators are introducing a bill to improve conditions at family detention centers. It would restrict family detention and set standards for facilities.
“Our bill will hold the Department of Homeland Security accountable and ensure immigrant and refugee families are treated humanely and no longer torn apart or indefinitely detained,” Duckworth said in a statement.
Harris said the Chicago chapter of immigration lawyers will continue to organize volunteering opportunities and connect people with the Immigration Justice Campaign, coordinated by AILA and the American Immigration Counsel, which this week said it has received 5,000 offers to volunteer from lawyers, therapists, interpreters and law students.
Susan Malter, a Chicago attorney who is also a candidate for the Lake County Board, said she has signed up for a volunteering trip to a Texas detention center in October. She said that she responded to a call from Lawyers for Good Government, which created a program to help reunite children separated from their parents.
“I think it’s bringing out the best in lawyers. We have the tools to be able to help people,” she said. “The impression I get is that the people who’ve been there and seen what’s going on firsthand are horrified, and I think as many people as can go down there and be witnesses, the sooner this can end.”
Sara Dill, an attorney who is from Chicago but now lives in D.C., recently returned from providing legal assistance to parents separated from their children at Port Isabel Detention Center in Los Fresnos, Texas. She said her team of six lawyers met with about 200 people from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
“Every single person that we spoke with had been separated from their children,” she said.
Many parents had no idea where their children were, she said. The attorneys asked them for children’s ages, names, and the names of any non-detained family members who might be able to care for them. But parents had no documentation on what had happened to their children, where they were or how they would be reunited, Dill said.
Many families she had spoken to had fled violence. A family whose son was killed because he refused to join a gang came to the U.S. to protect their younger son, who was put in a separate facility. A mother who said she had been raped in her home country told the lawyers that she and her daughter fled after her 12-year-old daughter was raped. That daughter was separated from her mother after crossing the border, Dill said.
“They had the strength to tell about the torture and the horrible things that happened to them,” Dill said.
“But when it got to the point where they had to ask about the children, where they had to say, ‘Where is my child, and when am I going to see them again?’ and we had nothing to tell them.” That was when she saw parents cry, she said.
“They just want to know their child is alive.”