Grafton Township Assessor Primary a Rematch of 2013 General Election

Terra DeBaltz
Al Zielinski

Eight years after election loss for open seat, Terra DeBaltz (formerly Terra Jensen) challenges 2-term incumbent

Earlier today, Cal posted the McHenry County Blog article announcing the Republican nomination for Grafton Township assessor was the only contested race for nomination requiring a February 23 Republican primary.

Seeing the first name of the challenger while posting a comment, something very familiar about Terra DeBaltz hit me, and quick Google search confirmed it.

DeBaltz is the former Terra Leilani Jensen who appeared on the Consolidated Election ballot of 2013 as an independent candidate competing with Al Zielinski for the open assessor spot after Zielinski successfully primaried the long-time assessor in February of 2013.

Zielinski won election by 225 votes (53% to 47 %) over DeBaltz (Jensen) 8 years ago:

In 2013, DeBaltz was 32 and had only two years experience in the Elgin Township assessor’s office as a deputy assessor and was a single mother.

DeBaltz, now 40 has remarried and has 10 years experience as a deputy assessor in Elgin Township heading into the primary. She also serves on the Huntley village plan commission.

As I said in a comment:

“This could be interesting, and if Ms. DeBaltz is successful, could be a great lesson for an unsuccessful candidate for public office to bide their time, and wait a good 8 years before making a 2nd run at the office they lost the 1st time, against the same opponent.

“I will be watching this race, and will see if DeBaltz can win over Zielinski, who is the favorite because he’s the 2-term incumbent especially in what will be a low-turnout Republican primary, with assessor the only contest on Grafton Township Republican ballots.”

John Lopez comment in McHenry County Blog article “Grafton Township Fight Set for Assessor” 11/25/20


And as Cal said, all local campaigns for the 2021 elections are encouraged to email him any/all campaign announcements.


Grafton Township Assessor Primary a Rematch of 2013 General Election — 23 Comments

  1. And you know who is the most controversial swamp creature this Township has ever had.

    I am going to go out on a limb and take the challenger by a chicken leg.

    This is the year or female domination in politics.

    More emails to come.

  2. Wait a second here, back in 2013, while the former Ms. Jensen had two years in an assessment position, Zielinski had NO EXPERIENCE IN ASSESSMENTS AT ALL. He only had experience as an appraiser, and he was going around making speeches promising a 2014 re-assessment, despite that being in a non-quadrennial year. (Also, the township had just had a near perfect sales ratio in 2013, 33.6% per the IDOR, so no 2014 re-assessments were warranted.) There were times in a debate where Z wasn’t fully aware of the laws in place as well. He thought he could reassess every year if he wanted. That’s not what the law allows.

    And Zielinski was seriously bending ethics before he even took office. For an appeal of his Lakewood address, he served as an agent…FOR HIS OWN HOME. Licensed appraisers are NOT supposed to do that. He was still taking the homeowners exemption on his old address in Lake County, until he got caught.

    And also…as stated in the other article, Zielinski had actually offered the former Ms. Jensen a job if she were to drop out. Really ethical.

    The bulk of Grafton quite frankly didn’t know enough about Zielinski before he conned his way into the office, and then proceeded to screw things up. He sales chases. He does whatever he can to shield how he reached his calcs and his numbers. some of his neighborhoods make no sense and his own reports showed they were unevenly assessed.

    He assesses his own neighborhood of Turnberry, instead of ethically handing it off to a Deputy Assessor. And his lakefront home went up just 3% from 2015 to 2019. Compare that to other homes that saw anywhere from 30% to 100% raises in 2019. And Z’s lakefront home won a giant six figure reduction on appeal in 2018. And we know what happened to Phil Stephan’s home and his neighborhood. Z oversaw that one too. And he still runs side businesses like

    Grafton knows who he is now. Mr. Zielinski is a grifter and con job, and can’t be in a public office like this.

  3. @Grafton, and because he lowered his neighbor’s homes almost 50%, weren’t other people in Turnberry using those lowered homes as a Comp to appeal their own assessments, thus causing grief for the County board of appeals and causing the rest of Nottingham to pay higher assessments/taxes to make up the difference?

    Al’s defense now of the house he lives in probably is that his name doesn’t appear on the deed, it is in a trust to a female and therefore it is not his home, the lady could be his sister, significant other, heck, could even be his mother, either way, ethically he shouldn’t be assessing the home he lives in…PERIOD

    Besides, didn’t he/they buy that house under a foreclosure in or around 2011 for pennies on the dollar and then soon thereafter appealed the assessment and that’s where they got that huge drop?

    Everything is a bargain in his world, even the Popeye’s chicken was a bargain, it was FREE for him, we paid for it.

    He is smarter than everybody else don’t you know.

  4. Don’t forget Z’s attempt at being Boone County’s assessor.

    Failed terribly.

    Of coarse he worked a sweet heart deal for himself so that he would “go away”.

    Z is a loser that couldn’t hold a job in the private sector.

  5. @Richard, That is another loophole that the legislature needs to close ASAP, there should never be a double dipping situation again.

    I will talk with our State rep to see what needs to be done to rein in this loophole exploiting Assessor.

    It seems like he has found ways to skirt the sprit of everything.

    This should have been closed the year he pulled this crap.

    The Assessor books need to be scrutinized annually by an Inspector General for accuracy and reported to the citizens.

    Right now, they (Assessors and books) are not accountable to anybody, not the taxpayer or the County.

  6. Maybe this explains why the rate of failure was highest in Grafton!

  7. Historically, double dippers have existed, including:

    William Shaw, State Senator and Dolton, IL Mayor

    Wanda Sharp, State Representative and Maywood, IL Trustee

    Adeline Jay Geo-Karis, State Senator and Zion, IL Mayor

    Ted Lechowicz, State Senator and Cook County Commissioner

    Peter Silvestri, Elmwood Park, IL Mayor and Cook County Commissioner

    Kimberly Lightford, Maywood, IL Trustee and State Senator


  8. IMHO, the assessor should be an unelected position that is an employee of the Township/Supervisor.

    Every elected position should have the ability to be recalled if necessary.

    Right now you have a coroner in Winnebago County (Rockford) who was indicted about a month ago for several felonies and official misconduct along with his wife and because he ran unopposed in the last election, he was elected, I believe while he was incarcerated and is now out on bond with a monitor.

    Still drawing a six figure salary and pension, even though he allegedly defrauded the taxpayers with tens of thousands of dollars in unauthorized expenditures on the County credit cards.

    Not sure if there are any charges to that very same Popeye’s on East State Street, still checking.

  9. joe, you are current on Winnebago, Boone and McHenry County politicians. 🙂

  10. Joe, an honorable person would resign if under suspicion but only a felony conviction forces resignation.

    In the here and now, the election to right all perceived wrongs with the Grafton Township assessor’s office will be in the voters hands on February 23.

    Are there any independents planning to run in April?

  11. The County Supervisor of Assessments has the power to change any township assessment.

  12. Cal, (Publicly and in this blog) I believe Al said they made “clerical errors” in that assessment but privately and in emails I believe they gave Al the professional courtesy to see the light with the Lakewood President’s absurd under-assessment debacle and Al doubled down and I believe in one of the emails to and from, he questions where in the ILCS does it give them the authority to re-assess these parcels?

    I will have to dig deep into the archives of emails and see exactly what was said but this is what comes to mind.

  13. Okay Cal here is the email exchange. From Al to the County dated Sunday August 9th, 2020 @12:50 PM. Subject line: 9619 Muirfield Dr. Steffan/home value.

    “I came in yesterday to get the bills ready for our township meeting and also reviewed the neighborhood especially its “problematic” parcel. I have two major issues with “correcting” it via a CR.

    1. I don’t believe it is in need of a “correction”
    2. I’m at a loss as to what section of the property code would permit a single “correction.”

    The two concerns stated above are based on the following.
    Using GLA, I sorted the neighborhood’s corrected values we submitted for 2020.
    It’s not the entire neighborhood but is a truly representative sample of the smaller dwellings.

    The parcel at issue is already above equivalently-sized dwellings. (end of thread…)

    You see Cal, publicly he admitted to making “clerical errors” and he said he notified the county and they refused to correct them. When FOIA requested for that email exchange, he couldn’t produce it because it never existed. You can see though privately, or at least he thought it was a private email exchange, he is defending the almost 50% decrease in Steffan’s assessment and then when the County was getting people who were appealing their assessments and using Steffan’s house as a (Comp) reason theirs should also be lowered, Al was defending Steffan’s house as being a small dwelling and what authority did they have to correct it? GLA is Gross Living Area and CR is Correction Request for the reader’s clarification. You see how bad that looks for both him and the receiver of said sweetheart assessment. There are tons of emails Cal that this Assessor thought was private, he was banking on nobody seeing them because he thought he controlled the Township FOIA responses so we had to reverse engineer the FOIA to get them and show just how this guy operates. Two-faced

  14. Cal, here is another email where the County found irregularities in his 2019 assessments and asked him to check his book. This was his reply.

    To County from Al the Assessor dated December 4th, 2019 @2:03 PM.
    Ref: Grafton Township 2019 assessment book errors.

    “first and foremost, please accept my apology for this matter.
    Our normal quality control regimen was not followed prior to our book submittal.
    As a result, numerous parcels received erroneous assessments for 2019.

    Second, if there is anything our office can do to mitigate the additional workload this matter places on your staff, please let me know and I’ll commit all resources necessary to help.

    We only recently discovered this error due to an email I received questioning a large assessment change from 2018.
    My investigation of that single parcel led to uncovering the larger issue which cover 131 errors in the following 3 neighborhoods.

    180034: Spring Lake Farms South, Spring Lake Farms South Original (Bellchase)
    180074: Boulder Ridge – The Greens
    180075: Boulder Ridge – Fairway Homes

    As soon as I confirm from my staff the attached file is comprehensive and accurate (today) I’m conveying the matter for your consideration and direction.

    Words fail to convey my disappointment in our performance but please know an error of this magnitude will never happen on my watch.

    If you would like to discuss this prior to next Tuesday’s meeting, just let me know.

    Sincerely and with deep regret,
    Al Zielinski
    Grafton Township Assessor (end of thread)

    You see Cal, 1 error is too many, wait for the next email I will post where he admits to 1,500 changes to clerical errors in 7 subdivisions in his book, multiply that by 9, that’s potentially (13,500) changes to errors as there are about 60 something subdivisions with approximately 20k parcels in Grafton. The Township deserves a new Assessor who can do this better with hopefully make NO errors, and won’t take it upon herself to book a hotel and a $35 chicken dinner at Popeye’s so she won’t have to drive 35 minutes home.

  15. To: County
    From: Assessor@Grafton Township
    Subject: Grafton 2020 Book submittal
    Dated: June 25th, 2020 @4:58PM

    Late this Afternoon we submitted our 2020 Assessment book.

    Contained within are about 1,500 changes made under 35 ILCS 200/9-75
    Those changes were made for neighborhoods 180021, 180022, 180034, 180034, 180065, 180068, 180074, 180074, 180075, 180085.
    All were corrections for clerical errors related to our 2019 assessment book.

    Many of those changes were submitted December 4th, 2019 for 3 neighborhoods when we discovered neighborhood-wide errors by one of my deputies.
    At that time, the Board of Review decided not to implement the changes due to the impact on the then currently ongoing appeals.

    The vast majority of the other neighborhoods’ changes are attributable to the same deputy and were discovered during our audit prior to submitting the 2020 book. That deputy is no longer part of our team.

    If you have any questions or issues, please contact me at your convenience.

    Thank you and please stay safe.
    Al Zielinski and titles (end of thread)

    You see how he did that Cal? There were originally 131 errors in 3 subdivisions in Dec of 2019, that were not good and now after the Steffan under-assessment (and other neighbors) has already been exposed to the public as of this email in June 2020, he includes more “clerical errors” and then includes his own and Steffan’s subdivision 180085 so he tries to cover his backside that the reason the assessment was low was because of a clerical error. Then in August of 2020 he not only relays to the County that the under-assessment valuation is probably still too high after an almost 50% decrease and also ponders which part of the law gives them the right to re-assess that parcel in the earlier post. Then he threw that deputy under the bus when we all know he admitted to assessing his own neighborhood, so if there were clerical errors in HIS neighborhood, that is on HIM. Boy, the FOIA works well when it is not being undermined by you know who. VOTE HIM OUT

  16. Hey Cal how were you able roll your property taxes back 15% in 2019?

    I wish I had that kind of time machine that brought my taxes back to 2008 levels.

    Do let us know.

  17. Someone should send Oathkeeper the P to the E to the T to the I to the T to the I to the O to the N, if you know what I’m sayin…

    It seems like he would be on board.

  18. @Oathkeeper, my preference first is the ability to recall elected officials like Zielinski. And you can’t do that in Illinois. Even at a county level you can have monsters like Berrios. Even though we get the chance to fire Zielinski in 2021, he can inflict damage while he keeps his office. He kept his job in 2017 because no one ran against him. So he continues stupid assessment actions like sales chasing…where you take the most recent sales price of a home instead of properly doing assessments through mass appraisal…and as much as 700 homes were sales chased for the 2019 Quadrennial. Some were 20% higher or more than the exact homes around them. Oh, and he dropped the home value of the Lakewood Village President 46% and pretty much kept his home just a few ticks above what it was in 2015. And he still thinks he can re-assess in non quad years, despite the Illinois Property Tax Code and Case law stating otherwise. Thankfully, the County Assessor steps in and changes back his numbers. Were the recall option available, we would not have to wait til 2021 to fire this doofus.

  19. Even though we get the chance to fire Zielinski in 2021…

    To insure everyone is on the same page, while the election for township assessors, either in Grafton Township or anywhere in Illinois, is on April 6, 2021, the next township assessor’s term runs from 1/1/2022-12/31/2025.

    The term is set by statute to begin on January 1 of the following year.

    Just in case all of our readers did not know this fact.

  20. @Lopez, we did know that but he will be a lame duck quacking in his lake front home comparing himself to Einstein, saving that email for when you start another thread. Then that gives us lots of time to plan for her Inauguration ceremony. I think we will rent the Turnberry Country Club for the dinner just to rub it in and while we are in the parking lot, we can listen to him quacking in his house across the street.

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