Archived Story

City assessor under fire

Published 11:24pm Saturday, February 9, 2013

Some of the seven appraisers in the City Assessor’s office feel their professional judgment is under constant question by a department head less qualified than they are, sources close to the office claim.

Venting their frustration on the condition of anonymity, insiders claim city assessor Jean Jackson puts her personal touch on practically every land assessment in Suffolk.

Jackson’s frequent overruling, sources claim, meant that last year appraisers argued in vain that the beleaguered real estate market warranted a much steeper reduction in assessments than the 1.75 percent she ultimately granted.

Jackson

Jackson was “more concerned with the amount of the decrease than whether the (supporting market) data was right or wrong,” one insider said.

Widespread over-assessments in one large section of the city, and in several neighborhoods where unqualified sales significantly outstripped arm’s-length sales, is apparently the outcome of Jackson’s alleged mistrust toward her some of her staff appraisers.

According to city records and sales data, the average parcel of vacant land in Suffolk’s south and west that last year changed hands in a qualified sale is assessed at 50 percent more than its sales price. Nine out of 10 sold below the city’s assessment.

Meanwhile, in neighborhoods where both the market and commonsense dictate it should be worth less, the city has the land-only portion of lots assessed at or above richer neighborhoods.

For example, the land in Burnett’s Mill, behind Obici Hospital off Godwin Boulevard, hovers around $63,000. And it sits around $69,500 in Beamon’s Mill, off the southern end of Nansemond Parkway. But in North Suffolk’s comparatively swanky Chatham Woods and Warrington Estates, where homes can sell for 50 percent more, land is typically assessed at around $63,000.

Responding to her alleged tendency to stamp values above what her appraisers recommend — a possible factor in such distortions — Jackson said the assessor has “final authority.”

“I wouldn’t say that it (overruling) happens often, but yes, it can happen, because different situations can arise,” she said.

Other allegations by sources, which have been detailed in an unsigned letter to City Council members last month, suggest Jackson’s “micromanagement” tendencies extend beyond overruling her staff.

“There’s a problem with processes and time management,” said one source who described Jackson’s assessing approach as “extremely cumbersome” and “totally prohibitive to being able to carry out the main function of this office.”

“Inter-office communication is poor,” the source continued. “They are constantly changing the processes — we do it, then they change how they want it done. … Everyone’s frustrated for having to redo their work over and over again.”

Another frustration sources cited was an almost-four-month moratorium on taking leave so appraisers could discuss assessments with concerned taxpayers and prepare for appeals to Suffolk’s Board of Equalization, whose caseload last year far outstripped that of other Hampton Roads cities.

“It’s not unusual to get 20 or 30 phone calls right after … notices go out, and it will go like that for about a week,” one source remarked. “We have to return every call.”

Jackson said she “extended the period of time to allow anybody who has issues (or) concerns to come forward to the office,” and she said she will likely do the same this year.

The assessment workload of Jackson’s seven appraisers is yet another contention broiling within her office. According to one source, each appraiser handles 7,000 to 8,000 parcels — far beyond the average 2,500 parcels from a 1986 International Association of Assessing Officers (IAAO) survey of 127 municipalities with computer assistance. An IAAO spokeswoman said staffing benchmarks will be updated later this year.

“All city employees are probably handling more than they normally would, based on the economic times,” responded city Chief of Staff Debbie George, who sat in on two interviews with Jackson.

Many of those questioning assessments in Suffolk also question whether Jackson is qualified for the job.

City Council appointed her as an interim in April 2011 and as the official assessor a little more than four months later. Both votes were added to the respective meeting agendas as new business and received unanimous support without any questions from members.

Before taking up residence in the Assessor’s Office, Jackson had since 2005 served on the Board of Equalization, which adjudicates assessment appeals.

George indicated that a copy of Jackson’s resume — requested for this story — was unavailable, saying one was never submitted, because there was no formal application process for the position.

But Jackson graduated from college with a major in business administration and minor in accounting, according to a 2011 city new release. She has worked as a tax preparer for years and continues to do so in her own time, she said.

She has been a certified real estate appraiser since 1992, state records confirm, and taught appraising at Paul D. Camp Community College, the news release states.

Jackson’s education would appear to fall short of the “graduate degree or graduate-level course work” the International Association of Assessing Officers regards as “highly desirable” for her position.

“Since she accepted the job, it has become clearer as time has passed that she is unfamiliar with how our office functions,” reads the anonymous letter to council members. “She has consistently proven to lack an understanding of how a mass appraisal office should function.”

One source said, “It seems like when it comes to the valuations, there are staff in the office with far more experience, and she ignores their counsel and goes with people less experienced.”

Asked if she was qualified for her job, Jackson replied, “Yes, I am.” She said she has completed three courses toward her Assessment Administration Specialist designation and is scheduled to complete the final three before the end of the year.

While some members of her staff have been “unfairly” placed on performance plans, according to the anonymous letter to council, Jackson said she has raised competency levels by “having them take education courses.”

“I don’t care what organization you go into … (there are) areas of improvement, areas that could be strengthened, and that’s what my goal is: to strengthen the staff in all areas,” she said.

Human resources personnel began interviewing staffers in Jackson’s office shortly after the letter was sent to council members in late January, according to sources. George said she would “prefer not to comment” on whether the allegations are under investigation.

Jackson described the “emphasis on education” is her proudest achievement since joining the city.

“Part of that is also allowing people to take pride in their work and having the office transparent to the public, as well as customer service,” she said.

“Those are the things I have been striving for.”

 

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  • concernedcitizen

    The employees of the assessor’s office had to send a letter to City Council to be heard. I am quite sure that these employees have made previous complaints to HR that were completely ignored. Per the article, “City Council appointed her as an interim in April 2011 and as the official assessor a little more than four months later, but, George indicated that a copy of Jackson’s resume — requested for this story — was unavailable, saying one was never submitted, because there was no formal application process for the position.” Huh? You can’t get hired as a fry cook at McDonald’s without an application process. And who applies for a job as a department head and doesn’t provide a resume? That’s a crock. So, how was it determined that she was qualifed? Oh that’s right, “She said she has completed three courses toward her Assessment Administration Specialist designation and is scheduled to complete the final three before the end of the year.” So let me get this straight, all one needs to do to get a 6 figure salary in Suffolk is ingratiate themselves with the City Manager, i.e., suck up and then she can even create a position if required, much like she did for her friend Sherry Hunt. Or, maybe your husband can be high ranking in another municipality and you can be promoted from technician status to Asst. Director. Wow, most of us seem to have wasted our time getting educated and experienced, when all we really needed to do was seek employment in Surprising Suffolk. The fact that “George said she would “prefer not to comment” on whether the allegations are under investigation,” clearly evidences that they aren’t doing a thing about it. Hmmm, I wonder which department is next? Perhaps Finance, they haven’t been able to keep a director for more than ten minutes. I guess we’ll have to wait and see!

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  • chief601

    “Human resources personnel began interviewing staffers in Jackson’s office shortly after the letter was sent to council members in late January, according to sources. George said she would “prefer not to comment” on whether the allegations are under investigation.”

    I bet the investigation is to find out who wrote the letter.

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    • Mr. Developer

      Chief, I bet you are right. There is way too much smugness on this council to do the right thing. They will defend in ignorance rather than truly listen to the employees. Per my previous post, it appears that the council was already defending her with the Vice-Mayor’s comments of affirmation. I am all for being positive, but here we are with a political body that rarely dissents on anything. They decide everything behind closed doors and vote it through as a matter of process. The two new members did not vote against the CM’s raise, they really abstained. It won’t belong before both are towing their respective parts. After all, they are going to here the “it’s a good time to be in Suffolk” line from her majesty the Mayor many, many times. I am about ready to move form the city. It’s embarrassing to live someplace with leaders like this.

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    • concernedcitizen

      Chief601,
      You are so right! If it’s anything like the IT investigation, it doesn’t mean anything. Even after they paid an absurd amount of money to an outside consultant to tell them what they already knew, they still didn’t act on it. Clearly, Suffolk has management issues at all levels, but they refuse to do anything about it!

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      • jes

        Had anyone noticed that Branch was “reassigned” exactly one month to the day after the elections? It seems that the timing of his reassignment was a political ploy to keep the citizens uninformed. I wonder if the information about the IT department had been released prior to the elections if Johnson would have been reelected.

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  • Norseman

    Does it really matter what our homes are appraised at? The city appraiser tripled the price i payed for mine as soon as we put it on the tax roles. So all they will do is raise the mill rate if they dont raise the funds they want. The tax is supposed to be based on fair market value, nothing els. all other considerations should have no bearing on your assesment. As much as I hate this tax that is the only fair way to do it.

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  • Mr. Developer

    Having watched the tape of the recent council meeting, it seems Vice-Mayor Brown was bent on complimenting the Assessor. My guess is he knew that something was coming. Duman’s soap box against the media seemed as if they were expecting something like this as well.

    If your own staff can’t get behind your leadership how do you lead? It seems if Council won’t look into the problems in that office, then what chance can they have to get it right? What council should be doing is talking with the staff members…do they really have founded reasons to be concerned? Seven staff members have come forward. Obviously they are concerned and are having to do so anonymously to prevent lash out from management. It must be a picnic working in that environment.

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  • Roger Leonard

    No one has really spoken to the real issue in play here. The City Manager (who just got that big pay raise we all are paying) selects subordinate staff for only one characteristic, that being loyalty to her and her alone.

    She wants and demands allegiance to her agenda, above competent public service. Look for the proof of this statement, with the performance of the IT Department, the Assessor, and senior staff… Public works and Planning are the few bright lights of performance, however even they get bent in the winds of the City Manager’s conformity demands.

    When we have a supposed professional City Manager, selecting Department Heads that will swear loyalty to her above hiring them for competence, we have a problem. I was one of the very first to call for the firing of Steve Herbert, and I take no pleasure in now calling for the dismissal of Ms. Glen.

    If the Mayor and Council were to assess the real performance of the City Manager, they would never have granted her and others huge pay-raises, and would have assessed her and her staff on their real performance.

    Her ability to serve council’s agenda is not what counts; it is how she strategically manages our community. By that measure, she is an utter failure. Much of what Council defines as success is founded upon inflated assessments, which inflates city revenues and has allowed for spending plans and the inflation of the City “Savings Fund”… When that house of cards falls, so will the City Manger’s miracle of finance, suffered on the back of our property owners…

    Time to go Ms. Glen….

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    • mab1960

      Roger,

      This is a prime example of be careful for what one wishes for…Mr. Herbert’s replacement has proved troublesome, and I fear potentially devastating to the Citizen’s of Suffolk due to self-serving agenda by both Ms. Glen and the upper food chain in the city government. We are stuck with her until she decides to leave on her own…the Taxpayers can’t afford a lawsuit.

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    • kitnkaboodle

      Just because Planning and Public Works aren’t in the spotlight doesn’t mean they aren’t jumping through hoops. They know where their bread is buttered and how to play the game. As long as you don’t buck the system and keep low they’ll sit fine in this environment. Don’t take that strategy as anything noble… they will do whatever they have to to protect themselves.

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  • suffolklady

    The city of Suffolk is a den of corruption and has been for a long time. It is too bad that we have to wait until the NEXT election to try to evoke change when we JUST had an election three months ago. How much more are the citizens willing to take? What does it take to make people realize that WE are the ones responsible for what goes on within city council? There is one thing after another and it is becoming exhausting.

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  • Caren O’Connor

    City Manager appointed someone less than highly-qualified for the job? She needs to answer to the City Council. But the City Council just gave this same City Manager a big, fat raise. Unbelieveable! Voters, you need to remember this the next time your City Council representative comes up for reelection. The same applies to the mayor. I am proud to say neither of whom got my vote in November.

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    • Mr. Developer

      The city council appointed the Assessor. The city manager does not have anything to do with the appointment of the assessor. Bottom line: council hired her and did not try to get a qualified person.

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  • suff2011

    Another fine example of the leadership in this city. No resume or application process for this position?? There have been a few other high-paying positions that have been filled in the same manner. This type of hiring process is not in the best interest of the city and should be against the law.

    The The city manager is free to do anything she wants without any oversight from her bosses (City Council/Citizens). She is allowed to create new and redundant positions and fill them without even advertising the position. We have a Capital Projects Department that is charged with overseeing large projects that include new buildings. We now have added a high-paying position to oversee the building of the municipal building. That was done so Mrs. George could become Chief of Staff and Mrs. Hunt would be moved to Special Projects.

    Why has it taken so long to hire a new fire chief? The media release on March 2, 2012 stated that a search would start immediately for a replacement. Are they waiting for somebody from Richmond??

    The managers letter to council ,included in the adopted budget, states that all postions that become vacant will not be filled for a period of 90 days to save money and help fund the Comp Plan. A major in the police department retired at the end of November and a captain in January. These positions have already been filled and were not held for 90 days!! Another example of the city management doing whatever they want without following the policies they created.

    I am certain, members of council will praise the city manager for thr great job she is doing at the next council meeting. Apparently they are the most postive people on earth, they only see and speak of the good. If the city/employees perform well, it is all because of Glenn, when something negative occurs it is never blamed on her!!

    We cant wait for 2014, is there anything that can be done now??

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  • thekytikat

    First the IT office, now the Assessor’s Office. These people are hired by the City Manager, who is only hired and fired by the City Council. Our current City Council needs to be replaced, with the possible exception of Lue Ward. Fawcett got help from Johnson & Parr to win his campaign, so don’t expect him to go against them too much.

    People, now is the time to start your ground game ahead of the 2014 elections. We desperately need people to run against Duman, Gardy, Parr, & Brown. Folks, the local tea party needs your help. We want to put people up against these guys & give control of the city back to the citizens. We need a majority on the Council who are not beholden to the Mayor, and we can do just that.

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  • am

    “Jackson described the “emphasis on education” is her proudest achievement since joining the city.

    “Part of that is also allowing people to take pride in their work and having the office transparent to the public, as well as customer service,” she said.”

    I guess transparency goes for everything except her credentials. Time to go Ms Jackson

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  • blueberry

    She was probably hired by the City Manager, they both need to go. My property wouldn’t even appraise for what the City assesses it for. It appraised for $20,000 less than what they have it for.

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  • KNRMCO

    ARE WE NOT SURPRISED? As usual, hire someone with zero expierence & pay them inflated double digits, maybe triple digits & call it a day!

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  • 4ever cynical

    What a surprise… another stooge in Suffolk City leadership. She is obviously inflating assessments to generate revenue for the city. We’ve got two more annual double-digit pay raises for the city royalty that have to be paid. Keep reporting these blatant outrages, it’s going to reach the boiling point soon. Then the citizens will demand changes and take back their city!

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  • ANewCreation

    Another department in the City of Suffolk that’s in a mess. Do we even have anyone who is qualified AND experienced enough to lead any part of the city’s government?

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