Dale Washam wants four more years as Pierce County’s assessor treasurer. Four opponents in next month’s primaryelection want to end his reign.
Two of the five candidates will move on from the primary and meet in the general election in November to decide who will head the office that, in its highest-profile function, assesses property values and collects the corresponding taxes that help fuel the budgets of the county and other local governments.
Ballots for the all-mail election were to be mailed to voters by the county’s elections department beginning July 20. The voting will end on election day Aug. 7, the deadline for returning the ballots.
The candidates hoping to become the new assessor-treasurer include:
• Billie O’Brien, an administrator in the assessor-treasurer office.
• County Councilman Tim Farrell.
• Mike Lonergan, a former Tacoma City Council member.
• And Spiro Manthou, another ex-Tacoma councilman.
The sizable field of candidates – nearly twice the number of any other county offices on the priamry ballot – is largely the result of controversy that has swirled around Washam since he was elected in 2008. That includes an attempted recall of him last year.
A citizen group’s petition drive fell 1,317 signatures short of the necessary number of registered voters to force a recall election to decide if he could stay in office .
The recall attempt stemmed from claims filed by current or former employees under Washam who alleged mistreatment by him. The claims have led to seven-figure financial settlements and payouts from the county.
To help inform voters about the candidates, The Dispatch sent them a questionnaire about their positions and background. Here are their responses:
Dispatch: Please list your civic or community involvement, age and professional occupation:
O’Brien: I have never run for public office before. I am 63 and I was born in Pierce County and have lived here my whole life. I currently live in the Summit area.
I have worked at the assessor-treasurer’s office for 21-plus years. For the last nine years, I have held the position of administrative manager, with management responsibility for all of the functions of the office that do not directly involve appraisal. Prior to moving to this position, I was residential appraisal supervisor, with responsibility for 18 field appraisers, two review and appeal appraisers and three support staff. I have also been a residential field appraiser and acting chief deputy assessor-treasurer.
Farrell: Community Service: Board member, Broadway Center for the Performing Arts; Member, Tacoma Historical Society; Executive Board, Workforce Development Council; Board chairman, Pierce County Regional Support Network; Legislative staff, state House and Senate; Associate member, International Association of Assessing Officers; Board of Directors, Economic Development Board of Pierce County; Chairman, Tacoma Planning Commission; Board member, Washington Association of Counties; Member, Washington Association of Counties Legislative Steering Committee.
Age: 42. Live in Tacoma.
Pierce County Council member, representing Fircrest, University Place, South Tacoma, central, downtown, and Stadium District of Tacoma.
Lonergan: Deputy mayor and City Council member of Tacoma, eight years; former chairman of Pierce County Regional Council, Puget Sound Growth Policy Board, and Government Performance and Finance Committee. Past President of Kiwanis, Gideons, and Council of Executive Directors.Executive director of Tacoma Rescue Mission, 1993-2005.
Age 62. Live Tacoma. Married with two grown sons and five grandchildren)
Currently executive director, Youth Marine Foundation, a non-profit organization.
Manthou: Former deputy mayor and eight-year Tacoma City Council member. I served as vice chairman of Pierce Transit, chairman of the Zoo Trek Authority Board, board member of Workforce Central, Metro Parks Foundation Executive Board member and numerous other boards and commissions.
I am 61 years old. I was born and live in Tacoma. I have been the general services manager at Bates Technical College for the last 21 years.
Washam: I am Dale Washam, your elected/hired Pierce County assessor-treasurer. After taking office in 2009, I was immediately confronted with a moral and legal fiduciary duty to correct the harm that was done to the integrity of the Pierce County property tax appraisal system, i.e., “Taxpayers Property Assessment Records.” Said harm was done by the unlawful practice in the assessor-treasurer office of not doing physical inspections pursuant to the law during the years 2001 through 2008. That unlawful practice violated RCW 84.41.041 and WAC 458-070-015(a) and contaminated all the Taxpayers Property Assessment Records, thereby affecting the integrity of the Pierce County property tax system.
I also had the duty to correct another unlawful practice used in the years 2001 through 2008, where falsified assessor-treasurer official reports had been filed with the state Department of Revenue and with the Pierce County Budget and Finance Office stating tens of thousands of physical inspections had been completed, when in fact they had not been completed. When I took office in 2009, there were hundreds of thousands of false entries of appraiser initials, inspection dates and certification codes, entered into the system during the years 2001 through 2008.
I took all of the above information to the county executive, to the County Council and to the county prosecuting attorney. In 2009 all were given a copy of the “Statement of Facts” dated 3/11/2009 and a copy of the “Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer Investigative Report” dated 9/2/2009, which contained documentation of the above alleged falsified assessment records and reports. Since 2009, I have repeatedly requested state officials and Pierce County officials to investigate the falsifications of the assessment eecords and the falsification of the official reports filed with the Department of Revenue and with the county office during the years 2001 through 2008. To date, those requests have been ignored and minimized.
As long as I am your assessor-treasurer, I will stand tall for the taxpayer to make sure there is uniformity and honesty at all times in the Pierce County property taxing process.
Dispatch: In your background and experience relevant to serving in the Legislature, what sets you apart from your opponents?
O’Brien: My practical, real-world experience in the office and as a manager is what sets me apart. I have not only managed a large staff with varied duties, but I have a full working knowledge of the computer systems, the functions and the statutes that regulate the work done in the assessor-treasurer’s office. I know how the processes fit together and where to begin to make changes. I am accredited to appraise property by the state of Washington and have worked in the field and office appraising property. I have experience with the appeal process and have both responded to appeals and advised taxpayers on how to effectively appeal and where to find the information to do so. I am the only candidate that has that depth of experience and education specific to the work performed in the assessor-treasurer’s office as well as experience in management, budget and personnel.
Farrell: I have seven years of service on the County Council, eight years of service working for Sen. Jim Kastama in the Legislature, a master’s degree in business administration, and I have taken appraisal and assessment coursework through the Washington Department of Revenue. Pierce County needs someone with legislative experience to enact the changes necessary to improve customer service and make the office more efficient and effective. I am the only candidate with a broad background of experience, which I will translate into a plan to move the office forward past the mistakes of the current administration.
Lonergan: Of the five candidates in the race for County Assessor-Treasurer, I am the only one with successful experience as a chief executive. For 12 years I led a team of 65 employees of the Rescue Mission, and it was recognized as one of Pierce County’s “Best Places to Work” and earmed the highest accreditation from the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions.
Manthou: I have over 28 years experience in management and leadership, in both public and private industry, along with eight years as an elected official. This experience gives me a unique perspective allowing me to apply my skills managing and carrying out the responsibility of the assessor-treasurer’s office. I am known as open, honest, fair and transparent in my leadership style, and have been successful in bringing efficiencies to the workplace.
Washam: I have now served as your assessor-treasurer for almost four years. I offer my outstanding record of accomplishment in those four years. More than 237,700 lawful physical inspections have been completed. All new construction has been completed each and every year, pursuant to law. We have substantially reduced operating costs while increasing productivity at all levels of the assessor-treasurer’s office. This was done on a budget reduced by more than $1 million and with 14 less employees.
Dispatch: What do you hope to accomplish if you’re elected?
O’Brien: I will create an atmosphere of trust and openness in the office of the assessor-treasurer. The citizens of Pierce County deserve an office environment where there is professional behavior from top management down. Building an open and professional environment for both the staff and the customers that we serve will maximize efficiency. Staff will be given access to the tools, the training, and the technology necessary to ensure fair and equitable assessments for all property owners in Pierce County and will ensure that all work is completed in a cost effective manner within statutory timelines and within budget.
Farrell: My vision is to change the culture of the office from one of fear and intimidation to one of creativity and collaboration. We need to improve customer service; streamline the appeals process; and improve assessment records to ensure a fair appraisal of your property value. I have also been working with local legislators and other assessors from around the state to develop a legislative package to advocate for in Olympia which will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the office. For more information, please visit our website at timfarrell.us
Lonergan: I will restore the shattered morale of the assessor’s office and lead the staff to become the best county assessor’s office in the state, recognized for integrity, fairness and efficiency.
Manthou: As your assessor treasurer, I’ll ensure your property taxes are fair, and you receive the individual attention you expect as a home and business owner in Pierce County. Gone will be the iron hand that has ruled this office. We will return to the core mission: To serve the citizens of Pierce County with the respect, professionalism, transparency, accountability and dignity we all deserve.
Washam: I will keep doing what I have been doing the past four years, which is to make sure the interests of the Pierce County property taxpayers are always protected.
Dispatch: What are one to three issues you feel strongest about, and how will you address them as a legislator?
O’Brien: I want to streamline the appeals process and provide an enhanced, interactive sales search tool on the website. Giving taxpayers access to staff to discuss valuations and empowering staff to use their education and experience will make the process more efficient and easier for taxpayers and save them time and effort. Reducing the numbers of appeals filed will save Pierce County residents time and money.
The assessor-treasurer’s website should be a vehicle for information, research, instruction and education for taxpayers and other customers I will make the website more professional, more user friendly and intuitive and provide easier access to relevant information.
Continuing budget issues will need to be addressed. Appraisal staff already have one of the highest parcel counts in the state yet we need to complete all statutory processes within timelines and with available budget. Because of my experience, I can immediately begin working with staff to look at processes and procedures to determine where it might be possible to streamline and provide efficiencies.
Farrell: (1) Changing the culture of the assessor-treasurer’s office by stressing a safe and respectful workplace, improved communication, and establishing a professional atmosphere. (2) Streamlining our services so that they are useful and easily accessible by the public. (3) Ensuring that seniors, veterans, foresters, farmers and owners of open space know about the different deferral, grant and exemption programs that are available to them.
Lonergan: First, the assessor is responsible to the taxpayers of Pierce County, to assure that all 330,000 parcels of property are fairly and accurately appraised for value and assessed the proper amount of tax to pay for schools, police and fire protection, libraries, parks and other needed services.
Second, public communication about the assessment process, the right to appeal, and the availablility of exemptions for low-income seniors, disabled persons, and certain land uses must be improved through all modern information systems.
And third, the 75 staff members of the assessor’s office have been subjected to improper treatment and retalliation which has cost the taxpayers of Pierce County $1.5 million. I will replace ths horrendous management with fair and respectful treatment for these public servants.
Manthou: I would look for greater efficiencies through building and office space, apply increased technology in assessments, and increase the outreach to the general public and seniors. I would also rebuild the trust, respect, credibililty and confidence of the public for this office.
Washam: God and faith, with prayer. Honest and uniform property tax assessments. As your assessor-treasurer, I will continue to be the taxpayers’ advocate to make sure your property tax assessments are honest and uniform.