Hara stands above the rest for assessor

In contest for assessor, one candidate stands head and shoulders above the rest.

This November, for the second time in two years, King County voters have the responsibility of choosing an assessor.

For those who haven’t heard, the previous Assessor, Scott Noble, who has served several terms, was forced to give up the office in June when he was sentenced for a DUI crash that seriously injured two other people. Noble’s deputy, Rich Medved, announced plans to both seek appointment as Noble’s immediate, temporary successor, and also to run for the office to fill Noble’s unexpired term. But in July, he was paralyzed by a stroke, which ended his campaign.

The job of assessor is important, yet it is frequently misunderstood. The assessor’s responsibility is to fairly and equitably determine the value of property. The office neither collects taxes nor decides tax policy, although the assessor can be an advocate for taxpayers.

In August, King County Elections held a special filing period for the position. There will be no primary, so the general election will feature a competition between the five candidates who filed paperwork to seek the office.

Bob Blanchard is a first time office seeker who worked for Safeco Properties earlier in his career, and later established an accounting practice that he sold in 2006. On the campaign trail, he has argued the Assessor’s office does not have proper procedures in place for personal property tax refunds (citing findings by the State Auditor) and believes this situation must be addressed. He also wants to encourage or require public appraisers to be professionally certified.

Gene Lux is a former legislator who currently serves as a Skyway-area fire commissioner; he also has served on the board of Group Health Cooperative. Since filing, his campaign has been mostly invisible: he doesn’t have a Web site and hasn’t reported raising any money. In an interview with the Seattle Times, Lux said he believes the department’s employees “are doing a hell of a job,” adding, “My feeling would be that we give them all the continuing education and technical assistance they can use to make sure that we get fair and just assessments.”

Graham Albertini is a veteran appraiser who has held several positions in the private sector, notably at Washington Mutual, where he worked to expose the thrift’s practice of approving risky mortgages without proper scrutiny or oversight. He now works at a Mercer Island firm, American Home Appraisals, and was named 2008 Appraiser of the Year by the Appraisal Institutes’ Seattle chapter. Although his campaign is more visible than Lux’s, his Web site is mostly blank. He has not listed any endorsements or offered much in the way of a campaign platform.

The remaining two candidates, Bob Rosenberger and Lloyd Hara, could easily be considered the frontrunners because they have raised the most money. As of Sept. 15, Rosenberger had raised $20,769, while Hara had amassed $48,305.

Rosenberger has run for Assessor before unsuccessfully. He believes this time will be different. “I spent 24 years in the Assesor’s office, so I know the work that is required,” Rosenberger told me last month when I talked to him about his candidacy. “I think it’s mainly a matter of qualifications to do a very technical job.”

Hara, however, points out that the office has not been held by an appraiser in decades, and is primarily a management position. Public administration is something Hara is highly qualified for, with a record in public service that spans several decades. He has served as King County Auditor, Treasurer of the City of Seattle, and Regional Director of FEMA, as well as Seattle Port Commissioner. He knows how to put budgets together, work with other elected leaders, and make an agency more accountable and transparent to the public.

Hara also brings intriguing ideas to the table. One he’d especially like to help implement as assessor are conservation credits.

“If you put money in your home… it’s better insulated [for example]… I think you should get a free ride on that,” Hara told me recently.

Of the candidates who want the job, Hara stands head and shoulders above the rest thanks to his stamina, his experience, and his knowledge.

We’d do well to select him as our next Assessor this November.

Eastside resident Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, a Redmond-based grassroots organization. Villeneuve can be reached at andrew@nwprogressive.org.

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