New Avon Township Assessor Bryce Carus is refuting criticism that he reneged on a promise to return a nearly $10,000 raise to taxpayers, and defending the hiring of his son as a part-time office employee.
Although he was elected nearly a year ago, Carus didn't take office as Avon Township assessor until Jan. 1. In the April 2009 election in which Carus defeated incumbent Assessor Rick Dishman, Carus was part of the Avon Forward political slate that touted a desire to create open government and promoted how the candidates, if elected, would reject pay raises that a previous regime had approved.
Most of Avon Forward's candidates were voted into office for four-year terms. They are Supervisor Sam Yingling, Clerk Lisa Rusch, Carus, and trustees Chris Ditton, Sherry Ridge and Marc Feldstein.
At an Aug. 10 meeting, five of the newcomers - all but Carus - posed with an oversized check payable to "the people of Avon Township" for $3,999, representing the collective return of the raises.
Yingling explained to the audience Carus was not yet in office and intended to return a scheduled 15 percent raise on the assessor's $65,000 salary that became effective when he started Jan. 1. The raise amounted to $9,750.
But Carus stressed in interviews this week he never said he planned to return this year's raise and that Yingling knew where he stood on the issue. Carus said he didn't speak from his seat and publicly correct Yingling at the August meeting because it was not an appropriate forum.
Carus said he's following the law by accepting his set salary. He added the three trustees on his political team gave back $78 apiece, not nearly $10,000.
While state law does not allow the elected officials to formally revoke the raises, said Yingling, Carus can join his running-mates by writing a personal check to the township for the appropriate amount.
"To say I am shocked and amazingly disappointed in him not returning that pay raise is an understatement," Yingling said.
Ridge also criticized Carus for not sticking with the Avon Forward pledge.
Meanwhile, 29-year-old Sean Carus will make $23.08 an hour to work in the field measuring property in assessment disputes and handling paperwork, among other duties. Sean Carus attends College of Lake County and works 20 hours a week, his father said.
"It's quite common in the township governments," Bryce Carus said when asked what he'd tell critics. "It's quite acceptable. Nobody would think worse of it. Who else would you hire but your son?"
Carus, a retired engineer, said he didn't publicly advertise or seek other candidates for the job that went to his son. Carus said his son has the necessary computer and mechanical expertise that'll lead to a full-time assessor's post after he earns a "business-type" degree at CLC.
Government watchdogs contend politicians should not hire family members solely on connections. David Morrison, deputy director of Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said employees should come from a transparent hiring process available to all.
Carus isn't the only assessor to hire a family member. Dishman had hired his own brother, Michael, who is now one of three former Avon Township assessor employees part of a federal lawsuit claiming they were fired because of the political candidates they supported in 2009.
Avon Township includes all or part of Grayslake, Hainesville, Third Lake and the Round Lake area.