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Heller v. County Bd. of Jackson County

OPINION FILED MARCH 23, 1979.

LOWELL HELLER ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,

v.

THE COUNTY BOARD OF JACKSON COUNTY, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Jackson County; the Hon. PEYTON H. KUNCE, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE KARNS DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

The county board of Jackson County appeals from the judgment of the Circuit Court of Jackson County entered in favor of plaintiffs, Lowell Heller, supervisor of assessments of Jackson County, and Debra Beckman, an employee of the office, enjoining the board from interfering with the operation, control and management of the supervisor of assessments' office; from writing job descriptions for the office; from employing personnel for the office without the request or approval of the supervisor of assessments; from directing the employees of the office in the performance of their duties; and requiring the board to restore the salaries of the plaintiffs established in the budget and appropriation ordinance for the 1976-77 fiscal year.

Heller's complaint alleged that the county board of Jackson County, sometimes acting through one or more of its committees, consistently "interfered" in the operation of his office by removing from his direction and supervision his statutorily imposed duties and responsibilities; by establishing job descriptions for the employees of his office without his consent; by hiring employees for his office without his consent and directing them in the minutiae of their employment; by purchasing supplies for his office without his consent; and by generally relegating him to the status of an employee in his office. Both Heller and Beckman, an employee of the office, complain that their annual compensation was unlawfully reduced.

The county board of Jackson County appointed plaintiff, Lowell Heller, supervisor of assessments for a four-year term commencing in June 1975. His salary was initially fixed at $12,500 per annum and for the fiscal year commencing December 1976 was raised to $14,000. It is apparent that the county board became dissatisfied with Heller's performance as supervisor of assessments as requests were made to the state's attorney by members of the county board to institute proceedings for his removal from office under sections 322-24 of the Revenue Act of 1939. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 120, pars. 803 through 805; Macaluso v. West, 40 Ill. App.3d 392, 352 N.E.2d 382 (5th Dist. 1976).) The Board also requested the Department of Local Government Affairs to conduct a study of the assessment and collection of taxes in Jackson County. The result of this study as it pertains to the supervisor of assessments' office was a suggestion that job descriptions be promulgated for the supervisor and employees of the office.

The state's attorney declined to institute removal proceedings. What followed was either an attempt by the county board to force Heller's resignation, as he testified was his belief, or a relegation of his status to that of an employee of the office and clerk to the board of review and the elevation of an employee in the office to de facto supervisor of assessments, as the trial court found in its detailed findings of fact. Either conclusion is supported by the evidence.

In June 1977, the county board of Jackson County undertook to reorganize the office of supervisor of assessments by adopting job descriptions for the supervisor of assessments and the employees of his office. A position of "property record card supervisor" was created by the board and all employees of the office were placed under his direct supervision except the plaintiff, Debra Beckman. Her former position of chief clerk, a "Level V" clerical position under the existing organization of the office, was abolished and her position was reclassified as a "Level III" position, described as a receptionist. Under the reorganization of the office, she was the only employee working under the direct supervision of the supervisor of assessments. The reorganization of the office was accomplished under job descriptions prepared by the person who became the property record card supervisor and was assigned the title of assistant supervisor of assessments by action of the county board. The organizational structure approved by the board placed the property record card supervisor nominally under the direction of the supervisor of assessments; although, at a meeting of the office personnel with members of the county board, all, but plaintiff Beckman, were instructed that they were under the direct supervision of the property record card supervisor.

Simultaneously, the annual salary of the supervisor of assessments was reduced from $14,000 to $9,000 by amending the budget and appropriation ordinance in the middle of the fiscal year. At the same time, the annual salary of the property record card supervisor was increased from $9,000 to $12,000. The annual salary of plaintiff, Debra Beckman, was reduced by approximately $1,200 as a result of the reclassification of her position from chief clerk to receptionist. This reorganization of the supervisor's office was accomplished without consultation with Heller.

Complaint was also made that the county board employed deputies and clerks to work in the assessor's office without the consent of the supervisor of assessments and that supplies were purchased for the office other than through the established purchasing procedure established by the county board for county offices.

The trial court's findings of fact were that the action of the county board:

"1. Created the position of Property Record Card Supervisor and placed him in charge of the Office, including all record cards, maps and other vital functions of the office pertaining to the assessment of real estate taxes, and fixed job descriptions for this employee, William Massey, relegating the duly appointed officer, the plaintiff Lowell Heller, to an inferior position comparable to that of Massey's assistant.

2. Divested Heller of fixed statutory duties delegated to the Supervisor of Assessments by the legislature and not to the County Board, its Chairman or any Board Committee, and created a job description for the Supervisor of Assessments contrary to that fixed by statute.

3. Fixed other job descriptions for employees in the office. Interviewed applicants for positions in the office, selected, hired and placed the majority of the employees in the office under Massey's control and direction without any authority of Heller to hire, fire, discipline, assign or supervise either Massey or the other employees in his office or to require their accountability to him for the performance or non-performance of their respective duties, with the exception of one employee, who was Heller's former Chief Clerk, reclassified by said Board to the position of receptionist, being the plaintiff Debra Beckman.

4. Subsequently changed the title of Massey's position by adding the term `Assistant Supervisor of Assessments' without in any way materially changing his duties or the operations and functions of the office, and added the duties to `act in the stead of the Supervisor of Assessments in his absence,' thus in effect appointing a non-qualified person to the office without statutory or any other authority.

5. Reduced the salary of Heller by 35% to $9,000, and increased the salary of Massey to $12,000, whereby the Supervisor of Assessments' salary was 25% less than that of his newly designated `Assistant', during Heller's four year appointed term and after the Annual Budget for fiscal year 1976-77 ...


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