He's not always mad when he comes calling

Forum Extra

March 29, 1991|By Walter E. Boyd Jr.

NOT EVERY CITIZEN paid a home visit by Governor Schaefer is in the governor's doghouse.

A year ago I wrote the governor to complain of a serious error in the assessment of my home. A week after the letter was written, my daughter and I were sitting in our living room watching television. It was 11 a.m. on a Saturday. She glanced out the window and said, "Dad, here comes Governor Schaefer."

I was not surprised. It just seemed to me to be something Schaefer would do. He had my letter of complaint in his hand, and he said he wanted to see for himself what the problem was. After an hour of pleasant conversation and his assurance that the problem would be corrected, he stood up and looked out the window.

Pensively, he asked if I would mind if the news media came in. Thinking that one of the two men waiting in his car was a reporter, I expected him to come in. However, when the governor went out, they drove off.

The following Thursday morning I received a telephone call from Paul E. Schurick, the governor's press secretary. He said the state police would be by at noon to "secure the property," and the news media would arrive by 1 p.m., the scheduled time for the governor and Baltimore County Executive Dennis Rasmussen to appear. By 1 p.m. my living room was crowded with 20 news reporters, TV interviewers and cameramen.

My neighbors rushed outside, thinking a major crime had been committed. Everything went smoothly, and my family and I watched ourselves on the evening television news. It was very exciting. The governor and county executive promised to resolve my complaint. I have seven beautiful photographs sent by Schurick as a reminder of this occasion.

However, there is one big problem.

My complaint was that the state Department of Assessments and Taxation had overassessed my home, while at the same time they had underassessed a nearly identical house nearby. It had had a large room added, but it hadn't been included in the assessor's computations. Schaefer announced to the news media that he was advised this was a "windshield appraisal," meaning the assessor drove by and did not notice the new room because he did not get out of his car. The assessment on this house was thousands of dollars lower than mine.

As it turned out, the governor had been given erroneous advice. My neighbor, who is very sharp in these matters, reviewed the assessor's records and discovered there was an error in computing the figures. It was not a "windshield appraisal." A week later, last March 30, Gene L. Burner, director of the %J Department of Assessments and Taxation for 10 years, resigned abruptly amid the clamor and protests over soaring property tax assessments. The department was also cited for erroneous and sloppy work sheets as well as the poor attitude exhibited by many of the assessors.

Schaefer now had the perfect opportunity to appoint a well-qualified director to come in and clean house by straightening out his mismanaged state agency. He appointed Lloyd W. Jones, an administrator who distinguished himself and impressed the governor with his handling of the Maryland savings and loan disaster. Unfortunately, Jones has not been able to gain the confidence of the taxpayers in his administration of the department.

It has taken one full year for my problem to be resolved, and it still has not reached a conclusion. Governor Schaefer has certainly tried his best to resolve this situation. He has been ill-served by many people whom he counted on to do their job. It is no wonder he is getting somewhat irritable these days.

# He has my sympathy.

Walter E. Boyd Jr. writes from Lutherville.

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