Cook County Assessor (DEM)
Choose the candidates
Elected offices held and civic involvementKaegi
- First United Methodist Church of Oak Park, Member, since 2010
- Social Venture Partners Chicago, Investment Committee member, 2015-2017
- Social Venture Partners Chicago, Partner, since 2014
- Oak Park Youth Baseball and Softball, assistant coach, since 2014
- CFA Society of Chicago, member and charterholder, since 2013
- Leadership Greater Chicago, Finance Committee, 2015-17, and Program Committee, 2013-15
- Leadership Greater Chicago Fellow, 2012-2013
- First United Methodist Church of Evanston, member, 2009-2010
- Broadway United Methodist Church, member, 2006-2009
- Local admissions interviewer, Haverford College, 2003-current
- Local admissions interviewer, Stanford Graduate School of Business, 2003-current
- Chicago Council on Global Affairs, member, since 2003
- Chicago Sister Cities, Moscow Committee, 2002-2014
- Appointed to Cook County Commission on Women’s Issues: Served 2009-Present (Appointed by Forrest Claypool and John Fritchey)
- Initiated and passed three (3) property tax laws strengthening homeowner rights
- Executive Committee Chicago Legal Advocates for Incarcerated Mothers
- Lead organizer - 2008 Constitutional Convention Vote Yes
- Place consumer, health and financial advisory referendums on state and countywide ballots
- 8 year Deputy Member of the Cook County Board of Review
- 25 year active member - International Association of Assessing Officers
- Institute of Tax Professionals and Member
- Illinois Women In Property Taxation
1. How will you, as Cook County assessor, work for transparent, accountable, efficient government?Kaegi
Incumbent Assessor Joe Berrios has created an ethical cloud over the office. Law firms specializing in assessment appeals (and practicing before his office) provide the majority of his campaign contributions, creating a flourishing pay-to-play environment. Numerous investigative reports have detailed Assessor Berrios heavy reliance on nepotism, political favoritism, and political discrimination. Further, there has been extensive media coverage about Berrios’ moonlighting as a lobbyist for the video poker and liquor distribution industries.
This year, many have learned about the shocking systemic bias and inequities created by the assessor’s work. The ProPublica/Tribune investigation published this year was the culmination of many years of research showing that wide swaths of the county--largely to the south and west of Chicago and southern suburbs, but in many other places as well, especially where immigrants live--were substantially overassessed. The reporting also detailed the prevalence of an arbitrary and opaque system of hand checks where analysts adjust numbers and variables on individual property assessments.
Law firms specializing in property appeals (and largely funding the current Assessor’s campaign) obtain reductions largely for downtown commercial property owners. Residential taxpayers have been carrying an increasing share of property taxes paid in the county. In the county today, there is wide recognition that the office is producing assessments that are biased toward the powerful and wealthy. Following extensive reporting, the County Board, City Council, gubernatorial candidates and community organizations and activists have added to popular awareness of the unfair practices of the Assessor.
This is all happening in a context of rising property taxes and general discontent with incumbents. The Trump tax bill’s limitations on property tax deductions will multiply this discontent. People are highly dissatisfied and are ready to make a change.
I offer my candidacy as a viable alternative. My whole career as a financial analyst and portfolio manager has been dedicated to valuing assets and responsible financial stewardship. I managed the Columbia Acorn Fund, a widely respected $5bn mutual fund based right here in Chicago. I hold the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation and an MBA from Stanford. I have received the Certified Illinois Assessment Officer designation--a qualification required of county and township assessors throughout the state, but one from which Cook County is strangely exempted.
As Assessor, I’ll have a team dedicated to putting in place an assessment system that is accurate, fair, and transparent. As we do this, we want to build public confidence in this system so that appeals are seen as unnecessary, and rendered less profitable and less subject to political influence. Confidence in the fairness of this system is crucial to sufficiently financing education, infrastructure, health care, and municipal services.
I’m a native Chicagoan from the South Side, a Chicago Public Schools graduate, and I now live in Oak Park. My community involvement shows an interest and commitment to fighting the cycle of poverty. I have a long track record as a progressive volunteer and backer of up-and-coming Democratic Congressional candidates in close races.
Support for our campaign is indicative of Cook County’s diversity. Our campaign’s commitment to deliver ethical, transparent and fair assessments resonates broadly. We have received support and will announce support from a wide range of elected officials, ranging from ward and township committeemen up to federal elected officials. We are also getting enthusiastic support from volunteers around the county.Raila
I am a 35 year long property taxpayer advocate, formerly a decision maker with the Cook County Board of Review, appointee to the Washington Administration's Taxpayer Advocate Office, and a 25 year business owner of a property tax public policy and reduction firm. We will ban contributions from tax practitioners; Ban assessors from holding major political party offices; and Use the Assessors office as a platform to advocate for an appointed Cook County Assessor.
2. How will you demonstrate transparency as assessor? Should assessment variables and hand calculations be made public? Please explain.Kaegi
First, the Assessor must not take donations from the property tax appeal industry. This will be a key element (which will include other internal rules) of my effort to remove political influence from the valuation and assessment of homes and other property.
Second, I will make sure that every tax assessment--residential, commercial, or industrial--will be handled in a transparent and fair manner.
Transparency means being able to tell Cook County residents how the assessment on individual properties was calculated--something that the office currently does not provide. I will make data and valuation standards (including underlying algorithms, and the variables used) available to outside parties so that the office’s methods will be accountable to the public. I believe this kind of transparency will in itself help reduce regressivity by making the office more accountable for consistency and uniformity to all taxpayers, not just the ones who appeal.
Fairness requires that assessments uniformly reflect market prices and conditions for all properties in the County, such that property owners face the same ordinance assessment rate (10% for residential, 25% for industrial and commercial) regardless of property value, income, neighborhood, or political status. The Assessor’s current model is over 25 years old and generates intolerable structural systemic bias against neighborhoods in favor of large commercial properties downtown, especially since the majority of the value from assessment reductions via the appeals process are made on downtown commercial property. We can incorporate available data, models, and software--including using the PWR model developed by the RW/University of Chicago team that is currently accessible to the Assessor’s Office--to do this job better.
For example, the West Ridge community area (i.e., the areas adjacent to Devon Avenue) sticks out in a recent analysis by the Chicago Tribune and The University of Chicago’s Center for Municipal Finance as being the most over-assessed part of the North Side. Community residents and business owners are paying more than their fair share. This takes money out of the pockets of residents and results in the displacement of households and unwarranted costs on businesses.
Implementing the better, more uniform model that is available would result in lower assessments and keep more money in residents’ pockets, benefiting everyone in the community. We can incorporate available data, models, and software--including using the PWR model--to do this job better. All of these changes can be accomplished within the office under current law. No new laws or ordinances are required. What is required is a change in leadership of the office.
I believe that if property tax assessments are coordinated accurately, with fairness, integrity and transparency, there will be no need for hand calculations. Transparency in valuation standards will be especially important in assessing one-of-a-kind properties (think of a lakefront house, a steel mill, or a casino), that might previously have been shrouded by unaccountable “hand checks.” Opaque calculations diminish the integrity of the overall system and open the door for arbitrary and corrupt practices to seep into the assessment process. Transparent valuation standards will concentrate the minds of everyone in the Assessor’s Office on eliminating bias and unsound valuation practices, because they will be subject to systematic outside scrutiny. Whenever handchecks are done, they must be clearly disclosed to the public so that outside parties can scrutinize the office’s work.Raila
Implement the MacArthur Assessment formula without delay. Full disclosure of internal assessor audits that are used to increase property assessments in non reassessment years. Answer all public FOIA requests within seven days. Provide online property record cards to all property owners and detailed assessment data which at this time can only be granted through a FOIA process. Remove the requirement for tax practitioners to pay $5,000 in annual fess to to obtain this information. The public should be able to go online to see the property records card and print out assessment and sales data instead of having to go directly to Assessors office in person.
3. What policies would you propose to improve the public’s trust in the assessor's office? How would you improve public trust in the property tax system?Kaegi
By focusing on lining his own pockets and those of his political allies, the current Assessor has generated catastrophic damage to the public’s trust and faith in the property tax assessment system. Some communities have been irreparably harmed because of a property tax system that unfairly targets Cook County’s working class taxpayers. As Assessor, I will:
a) Clean house to eradicate pay-to-play practices
Under the current administration, the Cook County Assessor’s Office has become synonymous with pay-to-play and corruption. That will end when I am elected. I will not take campaign contributions from the property tax appeals industry as a candidate or as Assessor, and am committed to removing the perception that assessment is subject to political and contributor influence. I will put additional rules into place to insulate the work of the office from pay-to-play practices and political tampering.
b) Eliminate nepotism and cronyism in hiring, and install a professional, ethical, and diverse workforce.
As Assessor, I am committed to swiftly implementing the hiring and performance measurement requirements of the Shakman Monitor, and eventually exceeding them. I will make sure all employees who handle assessment undergo a professional assessment education program, such as that available from the Illinois Property Assessment Institute (IPAI). That means only highly qualified, well-trained staff will be assessing the value of taxpayers’ homes–no more unqualified family members or cronies on the payroll. As Assessor, I will implement a robust diversity hiring plan that ensures the Assessor’s Office hires highly qualified personnel that mirrors the county’s rich racial and ethnic diversity and is also equipped to meet our communities’ unique linguistic and cultural challenges. I will focus on maintaining a culture of inclusion and diversity in the office.
c) Commit to full transparency of valuation standards and how assessments are calculated
I will commit myself as Assessor to telling property owners how their assessments are calculated. This should be a minimal expectation for this office. We will also make data and algorithms (including assessment variables) available to outside parties so that biases and unsound valuation practices are subject to outside scrutiny. Showing the office’s work to all interested outside parties is crucial to restoring confidence in the office and that certain classes of property owners are not getting special treatment. This accountability to all property owners, whether they appeal or not, will help to reduce regressivity in the system and make assessments more robustly defensible from appeals.
d) Fix the broken valuation system.
The current administration has been beset by scandal after investigative journalists proved the assessment system has been grossly over-assessing working families, while letting the wealthiest property owners off the hook. I will implement modern valuation models and techniques to increase accuracy and reduce regressivity.
I am committed to adopting the more accurate and less regressive PWR residential valuation model developed by the RW/University of Chicago team. I’ll seek to improve on it by incorporating more data and variables related to short sales, prevalence of underwater mortgages, and nearby vacancies. The office will clearly need to clean up and improve the data it collects and owns on residential characteristics.
We will use the same income-based valuation techniques for large commercial properties that institutional investors who buy and own them would use. We will also make sure that allowances for vacancies are not allowing certain property owners to game the system and incentivizing vacancies at the expense of surrounding businesses and communities. This will go a long way toward eliminating the currently huge gap between downtown commercial assessment levels and actual prices paid in the market in arms-length transactions by sophisticated investors.
e) Free up resources consumed by the appeals process to increase awareness of exemptions
The Assessor’s Office today dedicates a large amount of employees and time to the appeals process. If the above measures increase accuracy and confidence in the assessment system, appeals will become less prevalent. The Assessor’s Office will then be in a position to dedicate more resources to building awareness of exemptions and improving service levels. This is also important to reducing regressivity, as the most disadvantaged homeowners tend be least aware of the important exemptions that are available to them. As Assessor, I will lobby for Springfield to pass laws that facilitate automatic enrollment in and renewal of exemptions, as long as sufficient data is in place to ensure that exemptions are not erroneously given.Raila
Currently there are 38 townships in cook County. None of the Townships actually create market values. Thirty Townships elect their township assessors, which are all underutilized. I would require them to act as decision makers in property tax appeals before the Cook County Assessor, assist in setting market values on special properties within their townships and have them serve as a formal assessment committee to discuss issues such as allowing for township created equalizers. Township equalizers allow for greater assessment accuracy. I would activate the eight Chicago townships with appointed assessors or elected assessors and give them the same assessment authority and tax appeal decision making powers so that each township has a township assessor that clearly understands their communities.
The role between the Cook County Assessor’s office and the Cook County Board of Review at one time served as a check and balance. This is not true today. The Assessor’s office wields tremendous influence over the Cook County Board of Review Commissioners, who no longer have a unified independent voice. Assessor recommendations to the Cook County Board of Review are no longer recommendations, but political demands.
Filing tax appeals pro se through hundreds of outreach programs sponsored by township assessors, the board of review, alderman, state representative and county commissioners is a practice rarely seen in the public tax assessment profession outside Cook County and the state of Illinois.
Taxpayers’ confidence in tax assessment fairness is best achieved through tax information sessions and online systems that disclose the data and methodology used to create market values and explain exemption qualifications, etc… The most important reason why the volume of tax appeals are so high is that tax assessments are poorly understood and are unfair.
Taxpayers face unprecedented historical increases in tax rates. The application of a unique state multiplier on Cook County alone, coupled with the County’s extreme variation between the lowest tax rate and the highest tax rate is arbitrary and unjustified.
The increased volume of tax appeals takes a heavy toll on the public administration of a just and fair property tax. County assessors and tax appeal boards face fewer resources and struggle with faster deadlines. Appeal boards are overwhelmed with weak or frivolous appeals. Frivolous appeals clog the system, decisions are delayed and poor decisions are made.
The most innovative projects crucial to advancing the Assessor’s office into the 21 century are the implementation of the MacArthur assessment formula, activating township assessors valuation authority and the purchase of a Digital Appeals Processing System (DAPS).
For the first time the DAPS system was implemented by the Cook County Board of Review in 2015, which is a separate agent outside the Cook County Assessors office. After three years the DAPS system streamlined the tax appeals demonstrating its value and efficiency curbing favoritism and mistakes.
4. The assessor’s office currently is operating under a federal monitor amid concerns about nepotism and patronage. What do you propose to do to address those concerns?Kaegi
The fact that Assessor Berrios continues to operate in flagrant violation of the Shakman Consent Decree confirms what many have known for years--that Berrios is only concerned with lining the pockets of his family and connected political allies while the taxpayers of Cook County continue to pick up the tab. The Assessor Compliance Administrator mandated by Shakman continues to document routine violations on a quarterly basis, and the monitor’s ongoing frustration jumps off the pages of its quarterly updates.
When we began our campaign, I committed to fully implementing all Shakman requirements--such as publishing detailed job descriptions, reporting lines, and hiring standards, and having robust processes and systems in place to onboard and evaluate employees. I intend to go beyond the Shakman Monitor’s requirements to give Cook County residents the confidence they deserve in a property tax assessment system that is fair, equitable and transparent for all. Cook County’s is largest assessor’s office in the country, and needs staffers that are qualified and committed to reforming the assessment process.
Cook County has the diverse talent needed to fix this problem and we are committed to building a diverse, qualified workforce that reflects our communities and protects our values. Berrios’ corruption, nepotism and patronage places an unbearable economic burden on working families already struggling under the Trump and Rauner administrations’ backward economic policies.Raila
Fully enforce current Shakman laws and pass stronger Cook County ordinances to ban political activities.
Outside contracts should be prioritized to Cook County vendors through open and competitive best practices. Doing business with Cook County should be under the chief procurement officer in order to implement best practices, transparent procurement methods, maximum participation at the lowest cost for vendors. Vendor enrollment should be easy and electronically accessible with an emphasis on minority and women enterprises contingent on ranges of $25,000 to over $150,000. Abide by strong ethical requirements that balances quality and price for the best value and that focus on vendor qualification. If no Cook County vendor meets this criteria we would look outside the county to acquire such a vendor. All bids must be authorized by a member of applying company or firm. Vendors must be required to carry insurance, be a company in good standing and follow county ordinances which forbid sweat shops, discriminatory practices against the disabled and minorities. Must have a clear statement prohibiting sexual harassment in their workplace. Employment policy must comply with current state statute which no longer requires an applicant to disclose non-felony arrests.
I do not support the advertisements posted on the Assessor’s website in the past, as a majority of them were from tax practitioners and possibly family members, which is a clear practice of favoritism. In addition, information regarding the destination of those resources was not transparent. If advertising is permitted, I would require all advertisers to include a disclosure notice displayed on the advertisement declaring they have no contracts with the Cook County Assessor’s office.
Paid electronic advertisements contracted to family members are currently permitted on the Assessor’s website. While this contract does not conflict with current county ethics rules. All electronic advertisement contracts for family members would be banned.