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Kanawha Assessor nominees’ discussion gets heated

The Democratic and Republican nominees for Kanawha County assessor have sharp differences of opinion about how the office should be run.

Democrat Sallie Robinson and Republican Forest Carper Sr. met with the Daily Mail editorial board Wednesday.

The pair traded barbs and accusations during a discussion that was heated at times.

Robinson, who has been employed at the assessor's office since 1980, said she would run the office in a similar manner as current assessor Phyllis Gatson.

Carper said he would make the office "more user friendly."

"I don't think the office is user friendly as far as relationships with taxpayers," Carper said. "I don't think the atmosphere is what it should be."

Carper said he would have knowledgeable people help taxpayers who have problems.

Robinson said the current employees are very knowledgeable and do work with taxpayers who have issues with their assessments.

"The individuals in the office are very friendly," she said. "We have letters written from individuals stating how friendly we are."

Carper responded, "My first encounter when I did call the office, I was really upset. I talked to a gentleman and all I could make out was mumbo jumbo.

"He talked for 15 minutes and he didn't say nothing." 

Robinson said she participated in the conversation referred to by Carper, who owns rental property and also has been a developer. She said the staff member answered all of Carper's questions in detail.

Carper has not yet filed all of the reports needed to assess his property, Robinson said.

Carper said he plans to bring the information into the office to have his property assessed as soon as possible.

"At this point, I haven't had the opportunity to do that," he said.

Robinson said the assessor's office has fined Carper $100 for not providing the information.

"I'm sure he'll complain about that," she said.

Although she said she would make few changes if elected, Robinson acknowledged that she would move personnel around within the department.

"I believe there are some employees not in the positions they need to be in," she said.  

Robinson said the office does very well at assessing commercial property. However, the employees need income information from owners to accurately assess the property, and sometimes the property owner does not provide those documents.

"Then we have to estimate," she said.

Carper wasn't sure how he would change the commercial assessment process because he has not yet been elected and is not sure how it could be altered.

"But I would try to simplify it so the taxpayers can get information they would understand," he said.

Carper said he would place tax maps online to improve access for taxpayers. Robinson said state code prohibits the assessors from doing that because there is a charge to access the information.

"It's mandated that we charge," she said.

Carper believes the office could set up a system that would allow it to charge online. He added that the state already has purchased a system that could be used for this purpose.

Robinson said the county would install the program to charge online for information once the state finalized the purchase.

Robinson also addressed accusations by Carper that an employee of the assessor's office had taken down one of his campaign signs. The person was videotaped outside a business in St. Albans around 3 a.m. Sept. 17.

Carper said the sign was gone from the area after the individual left. Robinson said she has spoken to the employee and he denies taking the sign. She pointed out that the video does not actually show the employee taking the sign.

"But this is not about signs," she said. "This is about who can be the next Kanawha County assessor and who is best qualified."

Carper's allegations of county employees campaigning for Robinson on the clock also were discussed during the meeting. Robinson said the county has a policy that no employee can campaign on county time.

She said many employees in the office support her but added, "I have asked none of them to do anything for me." 

It also has been alleged that Robinson gave her campaign manager a job at the assessor's office. The woman is a former employee who was rehired this past summer by incumbent Assessor Phyllis Gatson, Robinson said. While the woman worked on her campaign in the spring, she is not her campaign manager, she said.  

Robinson said she resents what she referred to as "personal attacks and accusations" made by Carper.

Carper also alleged that he had information that three vehicles owned by the assessor's office were spotted at a popular sports bar and restaurant in Cross Lanes for about three hours one afternoon.

Robinson said those individuals likely were assessing property in the area.

Carper said he had been told the individuals were residential assessors and had no business at the restaurant for that long.

Robinson began working for the Assessor's Office in 1980. She left in 1983 to work at the First National Bank in Belle but returned in 1985. She has been Gatson's administrative assistant for a little more than 10 years.

Carper has worked a variety of jobs, including meat cutter and commercial and residential builder.     

Contact writer Paul Fallon at paul.fallon@dailymail.com or 304-348-4817. Follow him at www.twitter.com/PaulBFallon.  


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