Friday, June 11, 2004

Assessor Candidates Tangle

Assessor Candidates Tangle

Posted By on Fri, Jun 11, 2004 at 4:00 AM

To judge by the sometimes congenial, sometimes edgy, and always spirited discussion held by the two major-party nominees for county assessor before an audience of real estate investors Thursday night, the race between Democrat Rita Clark, the incumbent, and Republican Harold Sterling, a former assessor, will not lack for issues. Some are the technical sort -- like the matter of when the office’s Geographic Information Services maps will be go online; others are more subjective, like Clark’s claim that her “woman’s management style” is superior to Sterling’s presumably more masculine version, or Sterling’s contention that his real estate background befits him better for the role of assessor. The two candidates, making their first joint appearance at a meeting of the Memphis Investors Group at the Homebuilders headquarters building on Germantown Parkway, also took some shots at each other during an evening during which they each made prepared statements, followed by a joint Q-and-A session. Clark --who upset Sterling’s reelection bid in 1996 --reminded the audience that, during Sterling’s term, the taxpayers had been hit for a judgment in a discrimination suit. (The two differed over the amount; Clark said it amounted to $600,000; Sterling said it was settled for far less.) The allegation was her comeback to Sterling’s suggestion that her staff was larger than it should be and that her office was thereby “spending too much money.” Said Clark: “A lot of times men don’t understand how women manage. Women manage through a relationship.” And, she said, through an emphasis on administration and diversity. Sterling critiqued the incumbent’s conduct of property-owners’ appeals thusly: “Verty few people came through that process happy. You need to work with people.” And he said his 44 years’ experience equipped him better than the incumbent to deal with the issues of property assessment. The issue of bragging rights for an innovation called G.I.S. (Geographic Information Systems) got some argument. The G.I.S., a digitized, layered method of mapping (and visualizing) property from specialized aerial photographs, isn’t online at the assessor’s-office website yet, but will be within two months’ time, said Clark. Sterling had taken credit for getting the program started in his term and chided Clark for not completing it during the next eight years. She responded that Sterling’s predecessor, Michael Hooks, had actually laid the ground work for implementing G.I.S. One attendee selected at random, Bruce Northrop, said after the meeting that he had arrived with a slight leaning in Sterling’s favor but may have left with a tilt toward Clark. Why? He hadn’t appreciated Sterling’s espousal of “Total Quality Management,” an administrative technique, as Northrop defined it, that apportions credit or blame to employees collectively rather than to single individuals. On the other hand, said Northrop, he wasn’t sold on Clark’s definition of “women’s management style,” either. The general countywide election, which, besides the assessor’s race, also involves one for General Sessions clerk between Republican incumbent Chris Turner and Democratic challenger Roscoe Dixon, will take place this year on August 5th.

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