Park board member's residency questioned : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|Park board member's residency questioned|
|Wass: costly legal review part of effort to oust him from the board|
|by Lyle R. Rolfe|
Len Wass may be serving on the Oswegoland Park District in violation of state law it was learned at last week's park board meeting.
Wass, who resides on North Adams Street in Oswego, was elected to a six-year term on the board in April of 2011.
During a discussion on cutting the park district's proposed property tax levy by 20 percent during a meeting last Thursday, Wass argued the board was wasting money on various things, including legal fees.
Board President Bob Mattingly said Wass was not a legal resident of park district and he had asked the board's attorney, Derke Price, to have him removed from the board.
Mattingly told the meeting room audience he had learned Wass had claimed his primary residence as a home in Somonauk in LaSalle County, where according to public records, he had filed for his senior citizens' property tax exemption.
Wass is also serving as a Republican Precinct Committeeman in Oswego even though he had signed an affidavit claiming that he was a resident of Somonauk in LaSalle County, Mattingly said.
"When you filed your petitions to run for office you swore on those petitions that your primary residence was here," board member Deb Krase said. "But you swore to the County of LaSalle that your residence was there."
Wass said he transferred his senior exemption to his Somonauk property about the time he was elected to the park board. He said he did it because it would be financially beneficial to have the exemption on the Somonauk property.
He said he signed a form stating that this was his primary residence for the purpose of the tax exemption. But he has lived at 175 North Adams Street in Oswego since moving there in 1988.
Wass said "principal residence" is just a legal term for transferring the exemption from one property to another. It has nothing to do with where a person votes or where he actually resides, he added.
"I had to sign a form that this was my principal residence for the purpose of the senior tax exemption," he said.
Wass said he has voted in Oswego for every election since moving to the village.
Wass said Mattingly contacted him in August and asked to meet with him to discuss a personal matter. Wass said they met at his home at which time Mattingly told him he and board member Deb Krase were examining his property taxes and noticed he had transferred his senior tax exemption to Somonauk.
Mattingly said he contacted Wass thinking it might be an oversight. He said he told Wass that if he would correct this and list his Oswego home as his primary residence, he would then be able to continue serving on the board.
Wass said Mattingly told him all he would have to do is transfer it back to the Oswego address and he would be okay, but suggested he see a lawyer to be sure.
"I went to a lawyer and he researched it and said this whole issue was cleared up by the Rahm Emanuel case which went to the Illinois Supreme Court," he said.
Wass was referring to charges that Emanuel could not serve as Chicago mayor because he did not live in his Chicago home all the time.
Mattingly said he later received a letter from Wass' attorney saying that what Wass did was legal.
When his lawyer said there was no problem, Wass said he told Mattingly in September that everything was okay. A short time later he said Mattingly asked if he received the opinion in writing.
"So I contacted a second lawyer and got the exact same conclusion," he said.
Wass said the controlling factor in holding a public office is the case law from the Illinois Supreme Court from the Emanuel case. He explained the lawyer looked into the property statutes and concluded that they are written to be sure a person does not try to claim a senior exemption on more than one home.
Wass said he learned since then that the district was using public funds to get him removed from the board.
Wass said he asked for the district invoices for the law firm back to July and learned they had been working on this even earlier than last August. He said records showed the firm had spent 15 hours examining his residency information at $200 to $250 per hour in an effort to show that he was not eligible to serve on the board.
He said his second lawyer, who also is costing him money, prepared a letter stating Wass was serving legally on the board and sent it to the board president including the actual case law.
Wass said his lawyer received a letter from the district's law firm saying they did not agree with either lawyer's conclusion.
But Wass said his lawyer received a second letter the following day from the district's lawyer saying that even though they did not agree with his lawyer, if he would change his primary residence back to Oswego, he would be allowed to continue serving on the board.
Wass said he told them he would not do this because his attorney said he had done nothing wrong and had not broken any laws.
"This is a property tax issue and two lawyers have told me that," he said.
Wass said he intends to continue serving on the board.