New Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi Lays Out His Plan for Office
At a meeting of the City Club of Chicago today, Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi presented his plans to modernize the Assessor’s office. Kaegi announced that the first area of Cook County he will reassess is the north and northwest townships for the 2019—2021 triennial period. The first reassessment township will open tomorrow with the rest following in the next few months.
At the City Club luncheon, the new Assessor spoke about his background and what led him to run for office. The Assessor position has historically been a prize won after years of political life, but this is Kaegi’s first elected office. He was raised in the Hyde Park area. His father was a professor of Byzantine history for 52 years at the University of Chicago. His background is as a mutual fund portfolio manager and investor. He earned his MBA from Stanford and worked for five years in Russia as a financial analyst for a large mutual fund firm. More recently, he was a portfolio manager for the Columbia Acorn family of funds, Kaegi described himself as ‘coming from a long line of nerds.’ Educationally, and by experience and training, he is about as different from previous Cook County Assessors as anyone could be.
Kaegi stated that there are three principles that will guide his tenure as Assessor – ethics, fairness, and transparency. To that end, he discussed his executive order prohibiting donations from staff and reiterated his election pledge not to accept gifts of any type from anyone doing business with his office. This policy alone is a huge change from past practice, in which Kaegi’s predecessors aggressively sought contributions from attorneys, appraisers, and consultants seeking assessment relief for their clients. He has also established a visitors log, so the public will be aware of anyone meeting with a director-level employee or higher in the office. He wants to end what he called ‘access to preferential outcomes’. He described his work as a ‘complex and difficult task’ to reform the Assessor’s office with the objective of taking ‘a complicated system and making it better.’ Another policy he implemented on his first day in office was terminating any employees who had been hired through nepotism. He has implemented a strict anti-nepotism policy.
Operationally, he spoke at length about legislation he is supporting to require owners of income-producing properties to annually submit income and expense data to his office. This type of data is often included in an appeal to the Assessor or the Board of Review but is not available for the initial assessment of a property. He stated that he could eliminate the need for many appeals by having this information at the start of the process. In many other large assessment jurisdictions (New York, Georgia, D.C., and Massachusetts, to name a few) this type of information is required annually. The proposal is included in HB 2217 and the Assessor argued in support of the legislation in a recent opinion piece in Crain’s Chicago Business. This collected data will not be subject to an FOIA request and will be published only in an anonymized format.
Finally, he introduced a number of his new staff members, including outside experts he has hired from the International Association of Assessing Officers (IAAO), data scientists, and assessing officials from other states. In a first for the Assessor’s office, he will be publishing all computer codes on GitHub, a development platform used to build software, review code, and manage projects. Kaegi is clearly doing much to break from past practices and says, ‘it’s not sexy’ work.