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Maddox v. Williamson Co. Bd of Comm.

OPINION FILED FEBRUARY 27, 1985.

JUDY WHITSON MADDOX, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

WILLIAMSON COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Williamson County; the Hon. Bill F. Green, Judge, presiding.

PRESIDING JUSTICE JONES DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

The plaintiff, Judy Whitson Maddox, brought the instant action for review of a decision by the Williamson County Board of Commissioners (board) to terminate her appointment as supervisor of assessments of Williamson County. The trial court, finding that the record was insufficient to sustain the board's dismissal of the plaintiff, reversed the board's decision and entered judgment for the plaintiff. On appeal the board contends, first, that the trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to review its decision dismissing the plaintiff and, second, that the court erred in reversing that decision when it was not against the manifest weight of the evidence. We affirm.

The plaintiff was appointed by the board as supervisor of assessments of Williamson County in November 1977 and was reappointed to that position in December 1981. On March 23, 1983, following a dispute over the firing of an employee in the assessor's office, the board notified the plaintiff in writing of the termination of her employment as supervisor of assessments. The board listed the following actions by the plaintiff as reasons for her dismissal:

"1. Initiating Board of Review action without prior approval, in that she directed employees to reduce assessments on all pole barns. In addition, she directed employees not to inform a Board of Review member of the changes.

2. Practicing a discriminatory policy of arbitrarily setting dates for the owner-occupied exemptions without applying the intent of the legislature and the law.

3. Not performing quadrennial reassessments [sic] as required by law.

4. For [sic] not assessing property at the mandated one-third level of market value.

5. For [sic] terminating, without just cause, an employee of the office of the Supervisor of Assessments, thereby exposing the County to liability for monetary judgment."

Pursuant to the plaintiff's request, the board held a hearing regarding the plaintiff's termination on May 11, 17, and 18, 1983. The plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel. At the hearing the plaintiff presented evidence as to the first reason listed in the notice of termination, that she had received the verbal approval of two of the board members to lower the assessments on pole barns before making such changes. She had been unable to discuss the pole barn changes with the third board member but had written letters to the individual members prior to her dismissal requesting their review of these structures and had received no response. The plaintiff stated further that her employees had been instructed not to make final changes to the property record cards on pole barns and to direct all inquiries regarding these and other valuation estimates to herself.

The plaintiff testified regarding the second reason listed in the board's notice of termination, that, although the statute in question contained a cut-off date for filing owner-occupied exemption certificates (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 120, par. 500), the board had at various times in the past adopted a policy extending the time for filing such certificates, with which the plaintiff had complied. This testimony was corroborated by testimony of the county clerk and a former board commissioner who had served with the plaintiff and by a newspaper article stating such a board policy for tax year 1981, which was offered into evidence by the plaintiff.

Regarding the plaintiff's failure to perform quadrennial assessments, listed in the board's notice as the third reason for her dismissal as supervisor of assessments, the plaintiff stated that she had requested funds from the board for that purpose in February 1981, August 1981, August 1982 and February 1983 but that the board had failed or refused to provide such funds. Two letters to the board and two annual budgets to that effect were offered into evidence by the plaintiff. The plaintiff stated further that when she had begun her job as supervisor of assessments in 1977, the board was encountering problems implementing a newly enacted "farm bill" and had made a decision to forego the quadrennial assessment for 1979 because of the prohibitive cost involved and the lack of manpower and time necessary to accomplish a complete reassessment. While it was undisputed that no funds had been appropriated by the board for a quadrennial assessment during the plaintiff's tenure as supervisor of assessments, there was testimony by one of the commissioners that a quadrennial assessment could have been initiated "at least in some piecemeal fashion" with surplus funds in the plaintiff's budget.

The plaintiff testified regarding the failure to assess property at the mandated one-third level of market value, the fourth reason listed in the board's notice of termination, that it was practically impossible to so assess property without first performing a quadrennial assessment. Rather, she had been instructed in courses and seminars on proper assessment procedures that it was more important to strive for equalization within the county and then apply the State multiplier county-wide to bring the assessment up to the required level. In addition, the board had directed the plaintiff not to "chase sales" since it would be unfair to assess new or recently sold properties at one-third of their sales price and then apply the State multiplier without considering the values of other properties in the area. It had been the procedure in the plaintiff's office to take 35% of the value arrived at by using a 1974 cost manual, which had resulted in an average county-wide assessment level of 18% before the State multiplier was applied. The plaintiff had specifically advised the board in requesting funds for a quadrennial assessment that such an assessment was necessary to achieve equalization within the county.

Regarding the fifth reason stated for the plaintiff's dismissal, the termination of an employee in her office without just cause, the plaintiff cited instances of the lack of cooperation, general insubordination, failure "to want to follow" instructions, and the releasing of information without authority that were given as reasons for the employee's dismissal in a letter to that employee on March 16, 1983. Specifically, the plaintiff testified that the employee in question had "[taken] it upon herself" to explain the changes in the pole barn assessments to a member of the board before the plaintiff had had an opportunity to discuss these changes with that member herself and had made final changes to the property record cards on pole barns in violation of the plaintiff's instructions to the contrary.

At the close of the hearing the board, by a vote of two of the three commissioners, reaffirmed its decision terminating the plaintiff's employment. The plaintiff then filed a complaint in the circuit court of Williamson County for review of the board's decision under the ...


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