Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County 11 COEL 18 The Honorable Maureen Ward Kirby Presiding
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Pucinski
JUSTICE PUCINSKI delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.
Presiding Justice Gallagher and Justice Lavin concurred in the judgment and opinion.
In this appeal, we decide a case of first impression: whether a candidate in arrears on her property taxes is also in arrears in the payment of taxes due to the city within the prohibition of section 3.1-10-5(b) of the Illinois Municipal Code (65 ILCS 5/1-10-5(b) (West 2010)). An objector's petition was filed to candidate Carmelia P. Earls' nominating papers to run for alderman, claiming that Earls was ineligible to run because she owed property taxes due to improperly claiming homeowner's exemptions on multiple properties for previous tax years. A hearing was held and the hearing officer overruled the objection, relying on a letter from the city of Chicago that the candidate did not owe any debt to the city. The Electoral Board adopted the hearing officer's recommendation and overruled the objector's petition, also ruling that the payment of property taxes is not a debt owed to the city and that section 3.1-10-5(b) of the Illinois Municipal Code did not apply. We hold that, notwithstanding the city's letter, the statutory enactments of the property tax collection system establish that the portions of property tax levied by the city of Chicago, though collected by Cook County, are taxes due to the city. Therefore, the candidate was ineligible to run under section 3.1-10-5(b) of the Illinois Municipal Code.
Respondent Appellee Carmelita P. Earls filed nominating papers on November 22, 2010, to run as alderman for the 28th Ward of the city of Chicago for the February 22, 2011 municipal general election. An objector's petition was filed by Petitioner-Appellant Eileen Jackson, stating that Earls was not qualified to run on the ballot as she was in arrears and owed a debt to the city of Chicago because of back property taxes due to her wrongfully receiving three homeowners exemptions on properties she owned, when she was only entitled to one exemption. The petition stated Earls failed to pay the full amount of property taxes, which included amounts owed to the city of Chicago, going back at least two years. The petition alleged that because Earls owed these debts to Chicago, Earls was in violation of the Illinois Election and Municipal Code and pursuant to Cinkus v. Village of Stickney Officers Electoral Board, 228 Ill. 2d 200 (2008), her nomination papers were invalid.
Previously, Earls received a letter from the city of Chicago Department of Revenue dated November 17, 2010, indicating that the city did not find a record of certain delineated debts, specifically stating the following:
"Please accept this as confirmation that no outstanding debt was found across any of the debt types, Parking, Water, Administrative Hearings, Inspection Fees, Cost Recovery and Tax/Licensing."
Petitioner-appellant Eileen Jackson filed an objector's petition to Earls' nominating papers on November 30, 2010, listing a variety of objections, including the fact that Earls was in arrears for amounts due to the city of Chicago by virtue of property taxes in arrears due to illegally claimed exemptions for previous years on multiple properties.
On December 6, 2010, the Cook County Assessor's Office sent a letter to Earls and her husband at their 37 N. Long residence, informing them that it had come to the office's and Alderman Smith's attention that they have received homeowner's exemptions on multiple properties. The letter outlined the dollar values of the exemptions Earls received for each of the properties. For 555 N. Lawler, Earls received a $963.20 exemption for 2008 and a $669.16 exemption for 2009. For 552 N. Lawler, Earls received a $578.55 exemption for 2008 and a $721.03 exemption for 2009. In response to this notice from the County Assessor's Office, Earls paid the amount owed in back taxes for the two properties on December 14, 2010.
A hearing was conducted by William Cadigan of the Chicago Board of Elections. The objector introduced into evidence public records showing that Earls had claimed a homeowner's exemption on three properties: 552 N. Lawler, 555 N. Lawler, and 37 N. Long, in Chicago, Illinois, although Earls in fact resided at 37 N. Long. These public records included the following: copies of the deeds for 552 N. Lawler and 555 N. Lawler, showing that Earls and her husband held title to both properties as tenants by the entirety; title insurance for the 37 N. Long property indicating Earls and her husband held title as joint tenants; records printed from the Cook County Assessor's website showing a claimed homeowner's exemption status for 555 N. Lawler in 2008 and 2009; the December 6, 2010, letter from the Cook County Assessor's Office sent to Earls; 2008 and 2009 homeowner's exemption applications for 552 N. Lawler and 555 N. Lawler; three original certified 2009 2nd Installment tax bills produced by the Cook County Treasurer's Office for all three properties; original certified PIN payment summaries produced by the Cook County Treasurer's Office for all three properties; copies of relevant statutory provisions; and a summary of the records relating to the properties and the tax levy and rates for the city of Chicago for the years 2008 and 2009. Earls testified that she in fact lived at 37 N. Long since 2007. Earls also testified that she was the one who paid the property tax bills.
The hearing officer relied on the letter from the city of Chicago indicating the city did not find a record of the types of debts delineated and overruled the objection. The Board of Elections adopted the hearing officers' recommendations, and found that the facts did not fall within the relevant provision of the Illinois Municipal Code and the holding of the Cinkus case because "the only evidence of indebtedness presented was regarding an amount owed to the Cook County Assessor." The Board did not address the argument made that Cook County collects certain amounts in property taxes for the city of Chicago, which it then disburses to the city. The objector appealed to the circuit court, and the circuit court entered an order affirming the Electoral Board. This appeal followed.
On appeal, Jackson contends that the Board erred in finding that Earls' nomination papers were valid because the debt she amassed by unlawfully obtaining homeowners exemptions on two of her properties constituted arrearages due to the city of Chicago. Because Earls was indebted to the city of Chicago at the time she filed her nomination papers, Jackson argues that she was precluded from running for elected office pursuant to section 3.1-10-5(b) of the Municipal Code 65 ILCS 5/3.1-10-5 (2008).
In response, Earls initially contends that the issue of whether she erroneously received homeowners exemptions to which she is not entitled is beyond the scope of the authority vested in the Board of Elections, and argues that the Board's authority is limited to simply ascertaining whether her papers comply with provisions of the Illinois Election Code governing those papers. Nonetheless, she argues that she did not owe a debt to the city of Chicago at the time she filed her nomination papers. She maintains that property taxes are payable to the Cook County Treasurer, not the city of Chicago. Accordingly, unauthorized homeowner's exemptions would not constitute a debt to the city of Chicago, and section 3.1-10.5(b) of the Municipal Code does not preclude her from running for alderman for the 28th Ward.*fn1
Initially, we find Earls' argument that the issue of whether she received unauthorized homeowner's exemptions was beyond the scope of the Board's authority to be without merit. It is well within the Board's authority to determine whether a candidate meets the qualifications for elective office set forth in section 3.1-10.5 of the Illinois Municipal Code (65 ILCS 5/3.1-10.5 (West 2010)). See generally Bryant v. Board of Elections Commissioners of the City of Chicago, 224 Ill. 2d 473 (2007) (reviewing an election board's decision as to whether the candidate was qualified to run for elective office pursuant to section 3.1-10.5 of the Illinois Municipal Code). More specifically, it is well within the Board's authority to determine whether a candidate is precluded from running for, or holding, an elected municipal office because he or she owes a debt to a municipality pursuant to section 3.1-10-5(b). See Cinkus v. Village of Stickney Municipal Officers Electoral Board, 228 Ill. 2d 200 (2008) (reviewing an election board's finding that a candidate was indebted to the village and was not entitled to run for a village trustee office). Accordingly, the issue as ...