Island County commissioners will interview three candidates for county assessor during a special session Tuesday, May 18.
The Island County Republican Party Central Committee was tasked with nominating three people to replace Mary Engle, who resigned as the elected assessor earlier this year to become planning director.
The candidates are Damian Greene, a current South Whidbey school board member and former county commissioner candidate; Douglas “Bernie” Upchurch, a 29-year veteran of the Navy and a former appraiser in the Assessor’s Office; and Dennis Roland, a Camano Island resident and former real estate broker.
Following state law, the commissioners will question the candidates during the public meeting, which begins at 6 p.m., and then may go into executive session for discussion. They will vote at the end of the meeting.
The commissioners urge people to watch online; instructions for connecting are on their website.
The special session will occur during candidate filing week; the assessor will be on the ballot in November.
Deputy Chief Assessor Jason Joiner took his name out of the running after initially saying he was interested in the position and gaining Engle’s endorsement. He said he’s taking a job as business development officer at Peoples Bank.
Joiner said he made the decision after an interview that made him question whether he had the support of the party.
Members of the party questioned him based on a perception of the office which “is just false” as well as fundamental misunderstandings of what the assessor can and cannot do, he said.
Engle said she’s also not happy that party members were misleading and not upstanding in dealings with Joiner, whom she described as a bright and diligent staff member who understands the office and state law.
“I’m disappointed with the party I was supposedly a part of during my entire time as assessor,” she said.
Tim Hazelo, chairman of the county’s Republican Party Central Committee, said Joiner has a great deal of support in the party and “would have been the guy” if he hadn’t taken his name out of the running.
“He’s the most capable of all the people we did talk to,” he said.
Greene, on the other hand, was critical of both the assessor’s office and Joiner in his answers to a questionnaire from the Republican party. He wrote that the assessment practice used in the office is “unsettling” and he would like to refine the process. In addition, he wrote that he understands procedure and policy manuals are non-existent in the office and he wants to change that.
“I welcome the opportunity to work with and mentor Deputy Assessor Jason Joiner with different management skills and philosophies to assure a more customer service orientated assessor’s office,” Greene wrote.
Greene, a current locomotive engineer and former owner of an insurance agency, wrote that he will run for assessor in the fall but after “a few short years” as assessor, he will run against state Rep. Dave Paul. He wrote that he has unspent funds from his unsuccessful campaign for commissioner. According to the Public Disclosure Commission, he can use those funds in a campaign for a different office if he obtains written permission from everyone who donated the surplus funds.
Upchurch had a different perspective. In his questionnaire answers, he wrote that he has the utmost respect for Engle and admired her accomplishments in office.
“I believe I can continue the positive momentum of the office,” he wrote, “and advance it further with the experience and skill I would bring to the position.”
Upchurch was a Navy officer for 29 years and retired as a captain in 2014. He served on the staff of both the chief of naval operations and the secretary of defense. He worked under the direct supervision of Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who became President Donald Trump’s national security advisor.
After retiring from the Navy, he worked for the Island County Assessor’s Office for six years, leaving as a level 3 appraiser. He also owned a small business in the county and worked for the Coupeville School District.
In his letter of interest, Roland highlighted his resume, management experience and leadership skills, saying that he is semi-retired. His resume shows that he was simultaneously a real estate broker in Arlington and general manager of operations at Compass Group USA, a food service company based in Everett, from 2016 to 2019. Before that he was a manager at Ram Restaurant in Marysville.
“I have a tremendous work ethic, excellent people skills, focus, loyalty, experience and integrity,” he wrote. “Additionally, I am transparent and very flexible which I believe elected officials must be.”
Engle, Joiner and several other county officials have lamented what they see as a broad misunderstanding of the assessor’s office among members of the public.
Under state law, an assessor is a four-year, partisan, elected position with duties that include determining the value of real estate and personal property.
All property must be valued at 100 percent of market value, which is based on the sale price of the property or similar properties over the past five years.
Many people don’t understand the relationship between assessed value and property taxes. As the leaders pointed out, an increase in assessed property valuation does not necessarily mean an increase in property taxes.
Schools, counties, cities and other governmental entities collect a set amount of property taxes (plus new construction), and that doesn’t change if property values change. It’s possible for the assessed value of a home to increase and the tax burden to decrease if surrounding property values go up at a higher rate.