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Trio make pitch for county assessor

by CAROLINE LOBSINGER
Staff Writer | May 31, 2023 1:00 AM

Three candidates hoping to replace Assessor Grant Dorman gave their best sales pitch to commissioners, area residents and county employees on why they should be hired for the job.

The trio — Dan Rose, Thomas Brown and Dennis Engelhardt — were selected by the Bonner County Republican Central Committee as finalists for the seat. The three got their chance to pitch their selection to the Board of Bonner County Commissioners at a two-hour interview Tuesday.

Under Idaho Code, the central committee of the same political party as the vacating elected official is tasked with submitting three candidates to the board of county commissioners. The board then selects one of the applicants for the open seat.

Dorman announced his resignation in early May, saying health concerns placed him at short-term high risk of a stroke as well as the long-term risk of associated health concerns. Saying the county's residents deserved someone who could devote their full attention to the office, Dorman resigned with the resignation taking effect June 2.

Questions ranged from how the trio would treat county employees to how they would address the conflicting wishes of public concerns and state guidelines. Other questions queried the trio on the difference between assessment and taxation and how they would respond to homeowners concerned about being able to stay in their homes due to the recent spike in assessments.

The public has certain expectations about what they want to see from the office while the state has requirements that may or may not agree with what the public expects, Dorman told the trio.

"How would each of you balance those competing expectations that are before you, by the state, by the public, by the other elected officials that you work with," Dorman asked. "How do you manage that?"

Each of the trio said it would come down to education and communication. Engelhardt said it might mean sending out notices advising an assessment inspection is needed; Brown said for him it boils down to communication, to working with the property owner to help them understand the process. For Rose, it also boiled down to education and working with the property owners.

With Idaho one of eight non-disclosure states, employees asked the trio how they would ensure assessments are fair without shifting the burden onto other taxpayers.

Evaluation models, MLS data and open communication would be his approach, Brown said. For Rose, it is a matter of being as accurate as possible within the confines of the law. And for Engelhardt, it is a matter of doing the best you can and working with property owners and the staff.

Stephanie Rief, representing the Selkirk Association of Realtors, asked the trio how they would handle the MLS data. Noting the organization and its members have worked hard to have a good relationship with the Assessor's Office, she noted the data is proprietary and asked how each would approach working with SAR to protect its data.

Both Brown and Engelhardt said they would work with the organization to keep a positive relationship, saying they respected the nature of the data. However, Rose said he would need to find "some common ground" to ensure taxpayers also had a voice.

Still others asked about the "less sexy" roles the assessor is tasked with fulfilling — from the DMV to tracking who owns what property.

Some questioned the process, asking why those with experience pertinent to the office were not selected.

"I'm aware of a number of members of the Assessor's Office who applied for the job and were not selected," Lonnie Williams said. "No offense to the candidates selected, how did we end up here?"

Others wanted to know what would happen if the commissioners opted for none of the candidates within the 15-day timeframe allowed. The answer, Commission Chairman Steve Bradshaw said, is that the party would select the candidate to fill the post.

Some employees noted the office is coming up on its busiest time of the year, noting there would be little time to hold meetings or offer input on what to do. Commissioner Asia Williams asked the trio how they would approach the team, knowing that some on the staff had wanted the job.

Engelhardt said he would rely on his administrative style of teamwork, seeking them out and relying on their expertise while working to gain that same knowledge.

Being as open as possible and supporting the team that is there and working with them to be as open and transparent as possible, Brown said of how he would approach the challenge.

Rose said he has been active in the community and local politics since he moved to the area in 2014. While his work experience is in the military and police, he noted he was elected to the Pend Oreille Hospital District board and has been active in county politics and is knowledgeable about what the job includes.

"I will provide to the assessor's office a style of fair but firm management practices," Rose said.

Rose said he would have an open-door policy, encouraging Assessor's Office employees to come to him with both problems and solutions.

Brown, who features a background in business and real estate, also has worked with the Army, Navy and Air Force to manage on-base housing at several bases in Washington and California.

He said his management style is one of inclusion, building a team through respect, trust and loyalty.

"I'd welcome the opportunity to serve," Brown said. "I think there's value in that. We all get to a time in our life where we've worked our professional careers, and then there's a time to give back."

Engelhardt, who had a 30-year career in law enforcement, said 20 of those were spent in management or administrative positions. That experience sets him up well to manage the Assessor's Office, he said.

He decided to apply for the position, noting he ran for the post in 2018, coming in second out of the three candidates. While he isn't a trained assessor, his background lends itself to the administration of the office.

"I've always found my leadership style works best when I'm pulling and not pushing in the direction I want to go," Engelhardt said.