King County assessor: To appoint or not to appoint? | Bob Roegner

Why would anyone want to be the King County assessor?

Two decades ago, Bruce Holland passed away suddenly just a few months into his term. Norwood Brooks was appointed to replace him and was defeated by Scott Noble. Noble was on the job 16 years, but then was convicted of vehicular assault and DUI and resigned. Rich Medved, his chief deputy, became acting assessor and is in the hospital after suffering a stroke.

Medved was campaigning to replace Noble as assessor. Medved’s campaign staff has stated he will not pursue the position when filing opens in August. Chief Appraiser Lynn Gering becomes acting assessor, but is unlikely to be interested in running for the job.

Democrat Lloyd Hara now assumes front-runner status over Bob Blanchard, a CPA, although the change in events has Republicans out recruiting. Hara was formerly Seattle’s treasurer, has been elected county-wide as a port commissioner and is well-known in Democratic circles. However, he has no experience in property appraisal.

Former department appraiser and Medved campaign volunteer Bob Rosenberger ran for assessor several years ago, and may not be able to resist the opportunity to jump in the race. But Rosenberger has no supervisory or management experience.

All these twists and turns may have provided an opening that many good government organizations have sought for years. Maybe it’s time to take the office of assessor out of the political arena and change the charter to make it appointed. There is still time for the King County Council to put it on the ballot for the November election. The Municipal League of King County recommended that change previously when the charter was under review. But because there was always an incumbent who was opposed, the proposition never got past the council to the ballot.

The position of assessor is primarily ministerial in nature, as the standards for appraisal are guided by state law and uniform appraisal practices. The state Department of Revenue provides oversight to the agency to ensure compliance. All of the separately elected positions such as prosecutor, sheriff and assessor operate independently within the county structure, although the executive and council determine their budgets. Historically, this independence has resulted in public confusion over competing priorities as the county agencies appear to speak with many voices, not just one. The prosecutor is actually listed in law as a state position, so it isn’t subject to charter amendment. But the assessor is.

If the county council were to put the issue on the ballot, and the public supports it, then the next county executive would appoint the assessor subject to confirmation by the county council. An executive appointment is likely to come from a professional process where significant management experience along with appraisal background would be considered.

The only concern that has ever been raised seriously about this proposal is that by shifting accountability to the executive, he or she might choose to influence the appraisal system to raise more money for budget purposes. No executive who wants to stay in office would ever consider such a move. Beyond the obvious political repercussions, there’s state oversight and state law. It wouldn’t happen. In short, there is no reason not to take advantage of this opportunity to streamline and strengthen county government.

It may have been a series of sad, tragic and unfortunate events that have brought us to this point, but it is simply too good an opportunity not to seize. What do you think? Is it time to make the assessor an appointed position?