HUNTLEY – Grafton Township Assessor Bill Ottley was faced with a litany of criticisms, including using his public office to employ family members, only days after returning to the campaign trail from a broken hip.
Some residents in four McHenry County townships will head to the polls today to vote in Republican primary contests in Grafton, Nunda, Algonquin and Dorr Townships. The general election, which will include municipalities, school boards and other elected positions, is April 9.
Al Zielinski, Ottley’s first primary challenger since taking office in 1990, charged the longtime incumbent with nepotism late last week by providing local media outlets with payroll data obtained through the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.
The concrete evidence, Zielinski said, shows that for the past seven years, Ottley’s wife and two daughters have accounted for 21 percent of the assessor’s personnel budget.
The Lakewood resident also questioned why Ottley let two veteran deputy assessors go in 1990, before hiring his wife, Carol Ottley, and daughter, Sherri Proehl.
“Voters should be incensed as I am,” Zielinski said. “I’m all in favor of family business. I came from one, but the fact is my father’s business wasn’t financed by taxpayer dollars.”
Ottley acknowledged that his wife and two daughters had been on the office payroll, but said the family members left his office three years ago.
He dismissed Zielinski’s last-minute campaign attack as misleading, since both his wife and his daughter Sherri Proehl were certified and qualified to work in an assessor’s office. The two worked full time doing data entry, he said.
His other daughter, Julie Stauner, worked part time during the summers and often would not get paid, Ottley said. He also recalled how his wife sometimes would take pay cuts so that other employees could receive raises.
“He is just going to make up and say whatever he wants because he wants the job,” Ottley said.
But for Zielinski, the truth is in the data.
He said that the information obtained through state sunshine laws is indisputable and shows that Ottley’s family still consumes nearly a quarter of Ottley’s personnel budget, even if they all stopped working three years ago.
Combined, Carol Ottley, Sheri Proehl and Julie Stauner all made $405,014 from Dec. 31, 2005, to Dec. 31, 2012, when the total earned wages was $1.943 million, Zielinski’s data show.
He also obtained resignation letters from two deputy assessors in 1990, with one stating that she left because Ottley had yet to contact her. Carol Ottley and Sheri Proehl showed up on the payroll months later.
“Why would you take an experienced employee and trade them for family members?” Zielinski said. “In a normal business, that would raise a ton of eyebrows.”
Defending his integrity, Ottley said the payroll numbers don’t reveal any evidence that his office was substandard. He pointed to the fact that he has earned the state performance bonus for the past 21 years for making fair assessments in the township.
The 70-year-old assessor also has no idea how Zielinski’s campaign offensive will play with voters when they head to the polls today. Ottley missed valuable campaign time, after breaking his hip while knocking on a voter’s door Feb. 5.
“It will be what it is,” Ottley said. “I can’t change it.”
The other contested Republican primary races on the Grafton ballot include supervisor and highway commissioner. Voters will choose between incumbent Linda Moore, Huntley Trustee Pam Fender and attorney Marty Waitzman for supervisor.
Candidates Tom Poznanski and Richard Dvorak compete for the highway commissioner nomination. Polls throughout the Huntley area open at 6 a.m. today.