Chicago’s Cook County Commissioner: Part Two—An Inside Look within the Office
July 31, 2012 | By Lauren Hart
Winning isn’t everything. True leadership is responsible governing.
Illinois’ Cook County Commissioner Dan Patlak, last week’s Leadership Institute graduate of the week, leads his 19 staff to work as “taypayer advocates” for the 1.7 million people he represents.
The Cook County Board of Review is a quasi-judicial board that helps respond to “taxpayer’s grievances with their property tax assessment,” Brendan Seyring, a staffer for Commissioner Patlak, said.
Twenty-eight-year-old Brendan is one of the Commissioner’s 18 analysts who research property tax values and work with constituents as they make their appeal. (He’s also a graduate of four LI trainings.)
“I kind of do a lot of everything,” Brendan said. “If people overpay, I work on one of the processes to help people get their money back.”
In 2011, Commissioner Patlak’s office worked on 341,688 cases and 62 percent
of these received some sort of relief on their property’s value, saving the taxpayer money, Brendan told the Leadership Institute.
“There is no filing fee. It doesn’t cost a property owner anything to appeal but their time,” Brendan explained. “And the Board
of Review never raises one’s assessment.”
So, what’s there to lose?
“I’m always trying to do more, and be more willing to help,” Brendan said. “We want taxpayers to have a fair and proper assessment.”
“A typical day is not very different from any other elected official’s staff. We provide constituent services,” Brendan shared. “The only difference is we field appeal files and phone calls for several hundred thousand people a year. Even with this many people, we treat all appellants, from large corporations such as Boeing, to an individual homeowner with the same care and attention. You can say we create policy every day.”
Staff in the commissioner’s office typically works on the submitted files; attending hearings with the taxpayer; and attending outreach seminars to teach constituents how to appeal their assessments.
The Commissioner’s office hosts regular “outreach seminars” that teach people how to appeal their property assessment and how it can result in lower taxes.
Brendan said that sometimes they have groups as large as 600 or 700 people at the outreach seminars and other times, they meet with a group of just three to four people. Regardless of the meeting size, the Commissioner’s analyst staffers remain until all questions have been answered and the process of appealing is clear.
Brendan’s proud of several things.
First, “I worked on what might be the first new farm in Cook County in decades,” Brendan said. “The farm was already a farm, but was not properly assessed. I helped him to get the proper assessment.”
The property owner purchased former commercial stables, and is now repurposing it as an organic honey farm, thanks to the savings from the property assessment.
A second highlight: Cook County has met the tax bill filing deadline of July 1 for the first time
in 34 years, Brendan said.
“For every month delayed, it costs the county millions of dollars,” Brendan said. “We are on time this year because of all the hard work and overtime.”
Brendan said it’s typical for commissioner office staff to put in 70 to 80-hour workweeks and work 10 to 12 or even 14 days in a row during appeals season.
“We are very different than most government agencies,” Brendan chuckled.
“I’m just a small part in the refund process for those who have overpaid their taxes,” Brendan said. “Commissioner Dan Patlak’s leadership has made this office work effectively and for the taxpayer’s needs.”
Besides being an analyst on the Board of Review for Commissioner Patlak, Brendan is on the executive board of the Schaumburg Township Republican Organization, a civic organization comprised of community volunteers whose mission is to promote better governance through voter education and by supporting and electing candidates who believe in the Republican principles of limited government, individual liberty, and fiscal responsibility.
He is the Schaumburg Township collector, a liaison to the Human Services Fund, and a Schaumburg Township precinct captain. He’s also currently studying to be a Certified Illinois Assessing Officer (CIAO).
Brendan received his bachelor’s degree in American and Roman history from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana.
Brendan has taken several Leadership Institute trainings: Getting Out the Vote in 2012 with New Media in June 2012, Public Speaking Workshop in November 2011, the Advanced New Media Workshop: Campaigns in October 2011, and the Campaign Management School in October 2011.
“I learned how to win from the Leadership Institute,” Brendan said. “For those unfamiliar with Chicago and Illinois, politics here is very unforgiving. LI taught me why some campaigns did very well and others did not. Many of the successful tactics Commissioner Patlak employed, I recognized from LI. The Leadership Institute was very good at providing both in-depth training and the big picture information of running a campaign. The anecdotes from the very experienced lecturers were great! If more people would attend LI, we could really put some wins together.”
Brendan admitted, “I always had an interest in campaigns, but did not know how to learn more. I hoped to learn as much as I could volunteering for different causes. Commissioner Patlak then suggested LI’s Campaign Management School, which I had never heard of. I did not really know there was such a thing, but I was very excited to go.”
“I am now hoping to become more involved in campaigns and possibly pursue it as a career,” Brendan shared. “I believe this fall will be a time of great opportunity and excitement that would not have been possible had I not attended LI’s Campaign Management School.”
Commissioner Patlak said, “I have encouraged my staff as well as any other motivated people who want to win elections to attend the Leadership Institute.”
Brendan reflected, “I would not have attended LI or have been as involved in the Conservative movement had it not been for Commissioner Patlak. He is developing the next group of conservative leaders.”
Please welcome Brendan Seyring as LI’s Graduate of the Week.
“It is very important to have a staff that views the taxpayer not simply as an unlimited fund for government spending,” Brendan said. “It has not always been the case that a commissioner and his staff have been so concerned with the needs of the taxpayer.”
Check out last week’s “Chicago’s Cook County Commissioner: Part One—About the Man,” to learn more about the Commissioner and his campaign win.
To nominate a Leadership Institute graduate to be featured as LI's graduate of the week, please contact LI's External Affairs Officer Lauren Hart at LaurenHart@LeadershipInstitute.org.