Barrington Township assessor appointed supervisor
At the end of an unusually tumultuous meeting Tuesday night, Barrington Township trustees voted 3-1 to appoint township Assessor Amy Nykaza the successor to recently resigned supervisor Gene Dawson.
The meeting was led by senior Trustee Ron Szymanski, who cast the sole vote against Nykaza. He said he was concerned about a plan for Nykaza to soon name township Trustee Dan Fitzgerald's wife, Karen, as deputy assessor, leading to her later being appointed assessor.
Szymanski said an appointment like that smacks of quid pro quo politics and nepotism, which while not illegal is generally frowned upon. He said if not for his concerns about the Karen Fitzgerald appointment, he would have had no problem with Nykaza being the new supervisor.
Nykaza -- whose former husband, Robert Nykaza, is also a Barrington Township trustee -- said there is no ethical violation with Karen Fitzgerald becoming assessor, a position that carries no voting authority.
In fact, she said she came to her assessor position the same way 10 years ago when she was still married to Robert Nykaza and that Szymanski had no problem with her appointment then.
"Has this been an issue for the past 10 years?" she asked Szymanski.
He replied that he regretted not having the same concerns about the appearance of nepotism at the time.
But Amy Nykaza said it was not a legal issue then or now.
"It's not a conflict of interest in any way, shape or form," she said. "It's not nepotism."
The position of assessor is one of few in Illinois requiring an educational certification, and Karen Fitzgerald has already been taking the necessary classes, Nykaza said.
"She's the only one who came forward who had a real interest," she said.
The current deputy assessor has the certification to do the job but doesn't live in the township and couldn't hold the elected position, Nykaza added.
Bryan E. Smith, executive director of Township Officials of Illinois, said there's no requirement that Trustee Dan Fitzgerald recuse himself from voting for his wife's appointment, though many would do so to avoid any appearance of impropriety.
Dan Fitzgerald said Tuesday he decided long ago that if it comes to a vote he will recuse himself.
Township assessors in Cook County have less responsibility than assessors elsewhere in Illinois, as the actual assessments are done by the Cook County assessor. But the educational requirement to hold the job is the same throughout Illinois, Smith said.
Dawson said he decided earlier this year to step down after more than 28 years in elected office, the last 15 as township supervisor. He told township trustees in March he wouldn't run for re-election in 2017 and that he planned to step down at the end of May.
"Whoever takes over will have 11 months before the election," Dawson said.
But Szymanski said he was blindsided by hearing at the March meeting that there was already an informal plan of succession for supervisor and assessor that seemed to be known to only half the board.
"We were presented with this in March as a fait accompli," Szymanski said. "This raises the question of whether the Open Meetings Act was violated."
Dawson, who attended Tuesday's meeting, said he'd tried to contact trustees individually before the March meeting to let them know of his impending retirement but did not reach everyone in time.
As for her appointment, Nykaza said she's learned a lot about the responsibilities of the supervisor from her decade as township assessor.
"I've worked with Gene (Dawson) closely," she said. She received Dawson's own recommendation to succeed him.
In addition to all the usual responsibilities, the Barrington Township supervisor also appoints three members of the five-member Barrington Countryside Fire Protection District board. The other two seats are appointed by the representative of the 17th District of the Lake County Board.