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BEAT BYTE: Fiery Assessor Forum Tackles Tough Issues

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  • Michael Martin
    BEAT BYTE: Fiery Assessor Forum Tackles Tough Issues -- 7/2/08 From the Columbia Heart Beat http://columbiaheartbeat.blogspot.com 1) FIERY FORUM, CLEAR
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 2, 2008
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      BEAT BYTE:  Fiery Assessor Forum Tackles Tough Issues -- 7/2/08
      From the Columbia Heart Beat

      1)  FIERY FORUM, CLEAR CHOICES:  Schauwecker v. Bishop
      2)  THE BULLY BARRIER:  Community Leader Airs Threatening Encounter
      3)  LIES, DAMN LIES, AND THE INTERNET:   Blaming the Blogosphere?
      1)  FIERY FORUM, CLEAR CHOICES:  Schauwecker v. Bishop
      When Boone County Libertarian party chairman John Schultz asked Democratic county assessor candidates Barbara Bishop and Tom Schauwecker about a decision to change the way Boone County assesses vehicles, he helped crystallize one of their many differences. 
      Why, Mr. Schultz wondered at the Democratic Muleskinners forum last Friday, was the so-called VIN, or vehicle identification number tax system, adopted with no input from voters and taxpayers?   
      Mr. Schauwecker, who as county assessor made the decision, did not directly answer the question.  Instead, he said the VIN system was the fairest way to assess vehicles and that Boone County was "enlightened" enough to be the only county in the entire state to adopt it. 
      Mrs. Bishop disagreed, noting that her 10-year-old, fully-loaded Jeep suddenly lept from its depreciation schedule and jumped in value after Mr. Schauwecker made the change.  More importantly, she didn't like the way her opponent left the public out of both discussion and decision. 
      "I would have had information about it on the county's website," she said.  "I would have taken the decision to the county commission and let them put it to a vote."
      Without any Libertarians on the primary ballot, many will be pulling Democrat ballots on August 5th, Schultz explained.  "We want to know where the candidates stand on the issues," he said.   
      Statehouse candidate Chris Kelly helped crystallize another distinction between the two candidates when he asked about the "certificate of value" Boone County residents receive from the assessor to find out what they paid for their real estate.  Not required by state law (Missouri is a so-called "non-disclosure" state), supplying the information is entirely voluntary.  Mr. Schauwecker maintained that the certificates provide valuable data in a flawed system that "ties one hand behind my back." 
      Mrs. Bishop, on the other hand, said that voluntary disclosure means only some people will return the certificates, leading to incomplete information.  Most will simply ignore it, or return information that's either false or inaccurate.  "Until it's mandatory, I'd abolish it," Mrs. Bishop said.  "It doesn't work."   
      On the issue of constitutent civility , this writer asked what kind of message Mr. Schauwecker sent about Boone County's commitment to economic development -- a much used phrase these days -- when he implied that 3M was a bad corporate citizen for appealing a hefty property tax hike that was twice overturned on appeal. 
      "3M has been an outstanding corporate citizen, but obviously things have changed," Mr. Schauwecker said at a public meeting of the Boone County Board of Equalization that Miglena Sternadori of the Columbia Tribune reported. 
      Mr. Schauwecker did not answer the question.  Instead, he used the incident as an example of how he would "stand up to Fortune 500 companies" whom he believed must pay their fair share "just like Joe Six Pack." 
      Mrs. Bishop, in contrast, said the message was not good and that she would never name specific taxpayers in public admonishments.  
      Along with Missouri's only VIN tax system, Mr. Schauwecker touted Missouri's highest assessor reserve fund -- over a million dollars -- though he gave few clues as to why it was so rich.  He pointed to his office's adoption of high-tech mapping methods and another, rather unusual "accomplishment" -- that Boone County’s assessed valuation has risen from $650 million when he took office 19 years ago to about $2.2 billion today, a phenomenon for which either natural growth or unnatural taxation could account.
      Bishop spoke about her experience as a certified real estate appraiser in Callaway and Boone counties and her service as an Ashland alderwoman (city council member); planning and zoning commission member; and parks board member.  She said she was running for assessor because, as a good friend told her, from advocating for constituents to the meticulous work of appraising property, the job "is my cup of tea." 
      2)  THE BULLY BARRIER: Community Leader Airs Threatening Encounter
      Stunned silence greeted Brian Treece when he asked a question at Friday's Muleskinner's event.   He wanted to know how each candidate proposed to halt a taxpayer intimidation tactic Mr. Treece said he had personally encountered during a routine inquiry about how to file a property tax appeal. 
      Upon introducing himself during a telephone call to the assessor's office, Mr. Treece -- who chairs the City of Columbia Historic Preservation Commission and sits on the city's Downtown Leadership Council -- briefly explained that Mr. Schauwecker had greeted him with the words, "Brian Treece....the lobbyist?"   Mr. Schauwecker, Mr. Treece said, then threatened to inspect all of his neighbors' homes "and raise their taxes if I have to" should Mr. Treece appeal.
      Mr. Treece wanted to know how each candidate would do away with what he termed a "bully barrier" that seemed designed to intimidate people out of appealing unusual property tax increases. 
      Mrs. Bishop denounced the tactic and said it wouldn't happen in her administration.  She also said she had heard similar stories from several other constituents, one reason she decided to run for the office.   The stories have continued, she said, on the campaign trail. 
      Mr. Schauwecker did not answer the question.  Instead, he accused Mr. Treece of "filing late," though of which document it was not entirely clear.  "You know that's not true,"  Mr. Treece responded. 
      The back story here is as interesting as the encounter.  Mr. Treece is widely regarded as one of Missouri's finest political consultants, as a trip to his office attests.  The wall is covered with a who's who of political heavy hitters from Claire McCaskill to John Edwards to Hillary Clinton.
      And though he has helped elect a number of local officials, including county commissioner Skip Elkin and Circuit Court Judge Deb Daniels,
      his firm's clients are primarily large professional organizations who do business at the state and federal level.  
      To Bishop, meanwhile, Mr. Treece has donated a few hundred dollars and on those occasions when he is not working with clients out-of-town, lent moral support.  His appeal, he says, wouldn't have meant a huge savings.  It was the approach Mr. Treece says he objected to, and he was pleased his story could be heard when and where it might make a difference. 
      "These small, local grassroots campaigns don't attract the big money or big media of even a statehouse race," Mr. Treece says.  "But they can be just as important, especially when they represent real, positive change."   
      Consulting firm navigates political landscape for candidates, corporations
      3)  LIES, DAMN LIES, AND THE INTERNET:   Blaming the Blogosphere?
      A constituent question at the Muleskinner's debate about what constituted the "hardest part" of running for election prompted county assessor Tom Schauwecker to decry "all the lies, half-truths, and misstatements" about his public record he said were "floating around where people can be anonymous," i.e. the blogosphere.
      This is hardly the first time a beleaguered politician blamed the blogosphere for his or her troubles.  In fact, it happens almost every day. 
      But in this case, the blame is oddly misplaced.  As Mr. Schauwecker himself rightly told Columbia Tribune reporter Sara Semelka, the stories of his public record on blogs have "already been written about" in the Columbia Tribune, the Columbia Business Times, and to a lesser extent, the Columbia Missourian.   Radio talk show host Amy Miller broke the now infamous "F-word" story on her KSSZ show.   That incident was covered again by the Columbia Tribune. 
      In shades of the Columbia Public School admin attacks on Hank Waters and Janese Heavin (and her blog, Class Notes) for covering their record, Mr. Schauwecker's new website continues the theme, turning it into a kind of "blogo-media" conspiracy to -- well, report on his public record. 
      A rambling rebuttal of an agenda that his opponent and his critics have apparently defined for him includes a section entitled "THE PRESS," where Mr. Schauwecker speaks about "the citizen journalist" who's been "blogging" about his record in office. 
      That would be me, though "Citizen Journalist" is a regular column, not in the blogosphere -- but in the Columbia Business Times.  In March, my newsprint column was entitled  "My Case Against the County Assessor."   But Mr. Schauwecker puts it this way:
      "THE PRESS:
      There was absolutely no media coverage of the State Farm Mutual Insurance tax dispute until the “citizen journalist” began “blogging” about high profile tax appeals recently.  There was not mention of Square D property tax dispute until an appeal was filed in Circuit Court and local media picked up the story.
      "The composition of the Board of Equalization changed on January 1, 2001.  A member of the Boone County Board of Equalization “leaked” the 3M story to a Tribune reporter in the fall of 2004.  When asked a question by the press I must respond in an open honest manner. I do not try property tax appeals in the court of public opinion above the fold and on the front page, ASK STATE FARM!" 
      The accusation that a Board of Equalization (BOE) member (must have been a county commissioner) "leaked" the 3M story to a Tribune reporter is again unusual.  No leak would have been necessary.  BOE meetings are public.   Regardless, if criticizing a public official's very public record is somehow problematic, then we are all in deep trouble.
      Forum Stories:
      Candidate Websites: 

      Stories about Square D:
      Blogs about the assessor's public record:

      WHERE?  The Coffee Ground, Broadway Shops, 2703 E. Broadway
                (North side of Broadway just West of Hwy 63)

      WHEN?   8:30-10:30 a.m. (at least!)

      DATES?  July 5 and 19; August 2 and 16

      WHO?    Everyone is welcome.  Drop in and share your questions,
                opinions, ideas, and concerns!

      ANNOUNCEMENTS!  My one hour CAT3 TV civics show called "Counterpoint" is now airing on Columbia Cable Channel 3 on Tuesday,
      Saturday and Sunday evenings @ 7:30 p.m.  This month's offering is a discussion of the issues swirling around the recent City Council Retreat. Please tune in and let me know what you think about the discussion.

      This Saturday’s July 5 Coffeehouse conversations are cancelled.

      Jerry Wade
      4th Ward Council Representative
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