Monday, May 10, 2010

Assessing real estate assessments

Don Wheeler

In the post Adventures in Real Estate Taxation , I discussed the wacky world of real estate assessment levels in St. Joseph County.  The South Bend Tribune was interested in the piece and published it last Friday.

The Tribune Viewpoint column triggered an e-mail from a County employee.  This person does not work in the St. Joseph County Assessor's Office, but has reason to know of the goings on in said office.  The writer had many interesting things to share.

Your experience seems to be a common one...

The incumbent, David Wesolowski, had decided to retire in 2009.  At that time he wrote a letter of endorsement for Rosemary Mandrici, who had been the Portage Township Assessor and, as a result of a 2008 referendum, had merged with the County Assessor's office.  He also wrote one for his chief deputy, Kevin Klaybor, who is also his brother in law.  Kevin and Rosemary made preparations to run in 2010: buying yard signs, creating committees, fundraising, etc...

In January, unhappy with the response he had received thus far, Klaybor dropped out of the race.  Wesolowski decided to run again (many feel this was an attempt to save Klaybor's position in the office, prompted by his sister, David's wife).  Wesolowski approached Mandrici and asked her to drop out of the race.  She declined, saying that she had already had a campaign in place for two months and had invested her own funds into it.  Wesolowski suggested that she could drop out and pay herself back with campaign contributions.  She said she could not and would not do so.  The battle was joined.

Over the next two months Rosemary was subjected to an increasing amount of hostility and intimidation in the office.  At one point, Dave's wife and daughter walked, unannounced, into Rosemary's office and demanded that she withdraw from the race.  Wesolowski left the office in early April and was not scheduled to return until May 4th (the date of the Primary.  Coincidence?)  Her duties were stripped by Wesolowski, conceivably to deny her any credit or authority in his absence.  Klaybor, the Chief Deputy, was also gone for extended periods during this time.  Meanwhile, the Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals (PTABOA) was sent home by Wesolowski and was not given a date to return, possibly to deny them any authority since the majority of the Board had long supported Mandrici.  Reportedly, people who called the office for Wesolowski were told to say that he was "in a meeting".  If the call was deemed "important", he would be called at home by one of the employees loyal to him.

All this time, appeals stacked up like cordwood.  I have been told that at one point the South Bend Tribune was told of this debacle.  When a reporter called the office, a message was sent to Wesolowski who told one of his loyalists in the office to begin processing appeals ASAP. 

None of these appeals were given to Mandrici, who offered to help.  Wesolowski might have liked to have gotten rid of Rosemary, but probably the only thing that kept Rosemary from being fired outright by Wesolowski was a technicality: as the duly elected Portage Township Assessor, whose term was not over until the end of 2010, she could not be fired.  

The atmosphere in the office, pre-primary, was tense and charged.  Klaybor and the employees loyal to Wesolowski made a point of throwing Mandrici under the bus at every opportunity and intimidating those who were not supporting Wesolowski.  It was a mess.

 ...the Republican nominee, Randy Clark, is a close personal friend of Kevin Klaybor and another employee who was a drop dead loyal Wesolowski supporter... information detrimental to Rosemary may very well be fed to Clark to undermine her campaign and to help Clark's, which would potentially secure a position for Klaybor and his friends in the office.  What a mess.

I tell you this because I know the story from a number of people I know and trust in that office.  I also share it because, although it does not help explain the exact reason why you experienced the wild fluctuation in your assessments, it may explain why the process was more difficult than it should have been.

My guess is that we'll hear more about this. 

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