Cleveland due back in court Feb. 2 on criminal charges – after trip to Jamaica
SYCAMORE – A township assessor facing felony charges of official misconduct and failure to perform her duties is growing frustrated at scrutiny of her work, but she will have an opportunity to get away next week because a judge has given her permission to go on a trip to Jamaica.
Kingston Township Tax Assessor Jennifer Cleveland stormed out of a contentious Board of Review meeting Thursday, telling the board she would not come to future hearings if they would not consider her evidence.
Meanwhile, the person appealing his assessment accused Cleveland of assessing his property at a higher rate because he refused to hire her family members.
“I will not be submitting information to the board anymore because you are not willing to listen to us,” Cleveland said.
charged in November with forgery, official misconduct and failure of a local assessment officer to perform duties in connection with her move in 2017 to reduce the assessment on a home her son recently had purchased, records show. Despite the official corruption charges, she has continued in her post as township assessor. [Photos by Matthew Apgar – email@example.com]
Cleveland is due back in court on her criminal charges Feb. 2. She had been scheduled to appear Jan. 26, but the date was postponed after Chief Judge Robbin Stuckert ruled earlier this month that Cleveland can take a trip to Jamaica from Jan. 24 to 31. People facing felony charges in Illinois are not allowed to leave the state without a judge’s permission.
The meeting held Thursday, expected to be contentious and featuring a plain-clothes sheriff’s deputy in attendance, was for an appeal by Jason Jablonski of Kingston, who said several acres of farmland were taken off his assessment, and the residence was being over-assessed.
As part of his evidence to contest the assessment, Jablonski included an appraisal he had hired an appraiser to do for his home and brought one of the farmers to whom he leases
Each side was to receive five minutes to make its case, and the board members would have five minutes to ask questions. Both Jablonski and Cleveland protested the five-minute allotment, saying it was not enough time.
In actuality, the meeting lasted more than 30 minutes.
As Cleveland argued why several points in an appraisal Jablonski submitted should not be considered, Board of Review Chairman John Guio told her she already had used her allotted time.
“I am picking out the appraisal, why it is not correct,” Cleveland said when Guio questioned her method of assessment, “why there should be some questions asked here.”
“That should have been brought up in your earlier testimony,” Guio said. “Not here. We can’t go on all day with these hearings.”
Cleveland also had an additional piece of information she wanted to submit at the hearing that the board refused to consider. By law, the assessor has to submit evidence five days before the hearing, Chief Assessment Officer Robin Brunschon said. Brunschon also serves as the clerk for the Board of Review and was at the meeting.
Jablonski was appealing because land he says he uses for farming was assessed as residential property by Cleveland. The board voted to reinstate the land as agricultural, which is assessed at a lower rate.
When the board voted to reinstate the agriculture designation, Cleveland leaned over to Jablonski.
“I just want you to know I’m not upset with the decision at all,” she said. “I’m upset that they totally disregarded all my evidence.”
Then she stood and left through the back door of the meeting room, leading into the DeKalb County Legislative Center. She returned a moment later to retrieve her bag.
After the meeting, Jablonski said Cleveland was focusing on him because he would not hire one of her sons to work on the property when he first bought it in 2013. He said there were several dilapidated barns on the property that his insurance company was making him repair or take down. At the time, Cleveland was running for Kingston assessor, and Jablonski said he met her by chance.
Cleveland tried to get him to hire one of her sons to do the work for cash and Jablonski said that because it was all connected to his insurance company he could not.
“After she got elected, I got a call from her asking when I got that new garage,” Jablonski said. He said the garage came with the house, and he realized she was going through records of his property.
Cleveland said those accusations were false.
“I don’t even know how to comment on them,” she said after the meeting. She said her sons were in high school at the time and she might have mentioned they needed to work, but that was all.
Cleveland said she knew after communicating with Jablonski before the meeting it was going to get ugly.
But she didn’t expect the board to dismiss her evidence, and said that is why other assessors have stopped showing up to the hearings.
“I just really felt like I wasted my time,” Cleveland said.
The final tally as to how much acreage Jablonski dedicates to agriculture will have to wait until it’s calculated by the county’s mapping department.
If it is more than 50 percent of the 5.6-acre parcel, then it could be recategorized as farmland. A further hearing will be scheduled to recalculate the assessment.