Editorial: Wait for the next election

Island County Assessor Tom Baenen has his share of critics, but the recall effort launched last week seems extreme and ill-timed.

Baenen is a three-term elected official whose present term expires Dec. 31, 2006. In other words, in just 14 months he’ll have to decide if he wants to file for another run at office, and his critics can also decide if they want to run someone against him. By November 2006, he could be looking for another job if that’s what the voting public decides.

With such a short time left in the term he was elected to spend in office, it may be a waste of time, effort and money for critics to try to recall him. There hasn’t been a successful recall of a public official in Island County in many years, ever since the law changed to require that a judge find sufficient grounds for a recall before the petition effort can go forward. That actually happened in a recent controversy over the North Whidbey Park and Recreation District board member, but even after the judge said a recall could go ahead, the effort fizzled. There just wasn’t enough widespread public outrage to support a petition drive.

A recall is a last resort for a public official who is totally out of touch with his constituents and is failing miserably in his duties.

Any tax assessor has plenty of critics. It goes with the job, which is guaranteed to lead to controversy and unpopularity. But overall, Baenen has done well enough over the years to satisfy most voters.

Baenen’s most prominent critic, former county assessor Roy Compton, points out that Baenen’s office has made several miscues, resulting in erroneous reporting the state, the late mailing of assessments and incorrect tax rate calculations for certain taxing districts. And, of course, many people who see their individual property values skyrocket blame Baenen for the resulting tax increase — but he’s just doing his job of making sure property is taxed at market value.

Ultimately, a judge will decide if Compton’s allegations are true and merit a recall petition followed by a special election. But on the face of it, it appears that while Baenen may be guilty of poor management from time to time, his errors haven’t been so egregious that he must be removed from office immediately.

The proper way to remove an elected official is when he or she is up for election. Baenen’s critics would be wise to bide their time and find a qualified candidate to run for assessor next year. Then the voters can decide who is most qualified to serve.

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