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03/29/89 Becky Ann Saal, v. the County of Carroll Et

March 29, 1989





536 N.E.2d 1299, 181 Ill. App. 3d 327, 130 Ill. Dec. 88 1989.IL.435

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Carroll County; the Hon. Harold D. Nagel, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE DUNN delivered the opinion of the court. LINDBERG and McLAREN, JJ., concur.


Plaintiff, Becky Ann Saal, appeals from a judgment order in favor of defendants, County of Carroll (County) and County Board of Carroll County (Board), with regard to her complaint pursuant to the Administrative Review Law (Act) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 110, par. 3-101 et seq.) challenging her dismissal as county supervisor of assessments. On appeal, plaintiff contends that the Board's failure to notify her of 6 of the 10 charges against her until five minutes before the hearing was a due process violation and that the Board's decision to uphold the termination was against the manifest weight of the evidence. Defendant contends that the circuit court lacked jurisdiction when it made its final ruling because plaintiff failed to file a new complaint for administrative review after a remand to the Board from the circuit court. We reverse.

On August 8, 1985, plaintiff received a letter from Albert Ehringer, chairman of the Board, advising her that she had been dismissed from her position as county supervisor of assessments, effective immediately. The letter cited the following four reasons for the dismissal: (1) failure of her office to perform the farmland reassessment; (2) failure to have her office issue certificates of error during a prolonged absence by plaintiff; (3) failure to do all things required at her annual meeting with township assessors; and (4) failure to finish work on real estate declaration forms and submit them to the appropriate State agency in timely fashion. Plaintiff requested a hearing before the Board, which was set for September 12, 1985.

On the morning of the hearing, plaintiff received a list of reasons for her dismissal. The list contained the following reasons: (1) failure to accomplish the farmland reassessment; (2) failure to provide for the issuance of certificates of error during a seven-day absence from work; (3) failure to submit and process real estate transfer declarations in a timely manner as required by law; (4) failure to deliver the assessment books to township assessors by January 1, as required by law; (5) failure to submit the tentative abstract to the Department of Revenue in a timely manner; (6) failure to have the assessment books signed by the Board of Review prior to sending the final abstract to the Department of Revenue; (7) failure to record the minutes of 1984 Board of Review hearings into the log book; (8) failure to prorate the assessment of the First Brethren Church of Lanark; (9) failure to properly reassess the Shilling property; and (10) failure to prepare a list of exempt property requested by the Department of Revenue. Although plaintiff's counsel objected to the introduction of any evidence at the hearing concerning charges not mentioned in the August 8 termination letter, such evidence was presented and considered by the Board.

Ron Kane testified that he was hired by plaintiff to serve as deputy supervisor of assessments commencing June 17, 1985. When plaintiff was dismissed, he became acting supervisor of assessments. Kane testified that the farmland reassessment could not have been completed by the January 1, 1986, deadline considering the progress that had been made as of August 1, 1985. Kane stated that if work had commenced on the project at the time plaintiff became supervisor of assessments, it could have been completed.

According to Kane, plaintiff took a vacation in July 1985 and missed seven days of work. Plaintiff did not give Kane the authority to issue certificates of error during this period, and Kane was not aware of any employee who had been given such authority. Kane turned away two or three people during this time who requested certificates of error.

Kane testified that when a real estate sale takes place in the county, the county clerk's office sends a real estate transfer declaration form to the supervisor of assessments' office. The supervisor's office must fill in certain information on the form and submit it to the Department of Revenue no later than the 15th day of the month after the sale took place. Kane stated that the real estate transfer declaration forms for March, April, May, and June 1985 were not submitted to the Department of Revenue until August 1985.

According to Kane, the supervisor of assessments receives two copies of the assessment books each year from the county clerk. The supervisor is required to transmit one copy of the appropriate assessment book to each township assessor by the end of the year. Kane stated that he heard from Vivian Eaton, another employee in the office, that plaintiff failed to turn the books over to the township assessors by the January 1, 1985, deadline and did not accomplish this task until April. Plaintiff's counsel objected to this testimony on the basis of hearsay, but it was admitted.

Kane stated that a tentative abstract which the supervisor of assessments is supposed to prepare was not transmitted to the Department of Revenue by the required time. He also stated that plaintiff, who, in her capacity as supervisor of assessments, was also clerk of the County Board of Review, failed to have the Board sign the assessment books prior to the submission of the final abstract of assessed valuation to the Department of Revenue as required by law. The abstract was submitted on March 27, 1985, and the assessment books were not signed until August 21, 1985.

The Board of Review holds hearings on appeals of assessments by property owners. Plaintiff, as clerk, was supposed to take minutes of those meetings and transfer the minutes into a log book. Plaintiff had not transferred the minutes into the log book, according to Kane, at the time of her dismissal.

After Kane became acting supervisor of assessments, the First Brethren Church of Lanark sought a proration of their assessment as of the date that the church had a certain improvement removed. Kane granted the request. The church had previously made the same request to plaintiff, but she refused the proration. Kane also stated that plaintiff reassessed the Shilling property using the method set forth in the farmland reassessment bill even though, in Kane's opinion, the property did not meet the criteria of the farmland assessment law and should therefore have been assessed according to another method.

Kane also testified that plaintiff received a letter from the Department of Revenue dated October 24, 1984, requesting a list of exempt property in the county. Plaintiff did not comply with this request, which resulted in an audit of the office that was currently taking place.

Homer Byers testified that he was a member of the Carroll County Board and chairman of the Board's committee on finance and assessment. This committee interviewed plaintiff before her appointment as supervisor of assessments. Byers, Board chairman Donald Swanson, and the other committee members were present. They advised plaintiff of the deadline for the farmland reassessment and that the reassessment was to be performed by the personnel in the supervisor of assessments' office. Plaintiff stated that she could complete the work if she could purchase some new equipment and hire some extra people. The Board appropriated funds in order to enable plaintiff to hire two additional part-time employees, Vivian Eaton and Dawn Rath, who began work in December 1984. The Board also gave her the authority to purchase extra equipment.

In July 1985, Byers heard from Board of Review member Dean Lower that plaintiff's office had ceased work on the farmland reassessment in April. This testimony was admitted over the hearsay objection of plaintiff's attorney. Byers testified that plaintiff acknowledged contacting the Manatron Company in April 1985 to pursue the possibility of having it perform the farmland reassessment. Plaintiff never informed the Board that she was having difficulty completing the reassessment. Byers felt that plaintiff's unwillingness to perform the reassessment was demonstrated by the fact that Vivian Eaton stopped working on the program and assumed front office responsibilities. The cessation of work on the project by plaintiff's office forced the Board to hire an outside firm to complete the farmland reassessment at a cost of $43,700.

Byers stated that the firing of Karen Zink, a full-time employee in plaintiff's office, came as a complete surprise to the Board and that the Board did not fire her. Byers did not know why Dawn Rath was fired. According to Byers, plaintiff had the authority and the money in her budget to hire replacement employees.

Plaintiff testified that she worked as Carroll County supervisor of assessments for 15 months and one week prior to her dismissal. There were two employees in the supervisor's office when she began work there. Plaintiff stated that one of her duties was to guide and instruct the township assessors. According to State statute, the township assessors were supposed to assess the property in their townships and determine a level of assessment consistent with State and county law. At the time plaintiff became supervisor of ...

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