Navy vets vie for assessor position

Two first-time candidates are vying for a position that has seen an unusual amount of turnover.

Two first-time candidates are vying for a county position that has seen an unusual amount of turnover in recent months.

Come November, voters will choose between Republican Kelly Mauck and Theodore “TJ” Kubisiak, who is running as nonpartisan, to be Island County’s next assessor. Both are Navy veterans who have never held an elected position before, though both candidates maintain their own respective career and professional experiences that qualify them for the job.

The assessor position was vacated by Mary Engle last year when she resigned to serve as the county planning director. The Island County commissioners appointed Douglas “Bernie” Upchurch to fill the position in Engle’s stead. Despite his previously stated intention of running for the position in the general election, Upchurch did not throw his hat in the ring.

Mauck, a Camano Island resident, surpassed Kubisiak by a narrow margin in the primary election in August, earning 51% of the vote to Kubisiak’s 49%. Mauck served in the Island County Sheriff’s Office from 1996 to 2015. His career there included nine years as undersheriff under former Sheriff Mark Brown, making Mauck the longest serving undersheriff in the office’s history.

Following his law enforcement career, he became a state licensed home inspector and a general contractor before making his way to his current job as a real estate broker. He said his professional experience in these capacities, as well as his management experience in the sheriff’s office, all translate well into the responsibilities of the county assessor.

“I understand what brings value to a home,” he said.

The assessor manages the assessor’s office, which is responsible for appraising all properties within Island County at their fair market value. Like his opponent, Mauck is not an accredited appraiser, though he said he would pursue that training and certification.

He added that there is a significant amount of overlap between the training required to be a real estate agent and appraiser training, and much of his professional experience in real estate and home inspection would count toward the hours required for appraiser certification.

Kubisiak, an Oak Harbor resident, said he would also pursue certification. Like Mauck, Kubisiak said he feels it is important for someone in a leadership position to be willing to do the same things he expects of those he oversees.

Kubisiak, who worked part time in the assessor’s office in 2019 and 2020, completed coursework to become a level one appraiser, though he has not fulfilled the required number of hours for certification.

Kubisiak served in various leadership and management positions over his more than 20 years in the Navy. He holds a masters degree in organizational leadership and change from Brandman University and has served on the boards of many sports-officiating organizations.

In his Naval leadership roles, he managed multi-million dollar budgets and had more than 120 aircrew under his purview, he said.

“I’m very confident, especially with my background and my education, that everything is just going to run smoothly,” Kubisiak said.

If elected, Kubisiak said he will institute a standardized appraiser qualification system in the county to ensure all office employees are on the same page and receiving the ongoing training they require. He said he will also lobby the legislature to raise the income threshold for property tax exemption programs for seniors and disabled folks in Island County so that more residents can take advantage of the exemption.

Employee retention in the assessor’s office was another matter of import to Kubisiak. The office has seen significant turnover among its appraisers, he said, and he would work to counter this by expanding remote work options, making schedules more flexible and facilitating opportunities for employees to receive the additional certifications that would allow them to move up the pay scale.

Mauck also identified employee retention as an important issue. He said if he is elected, he will sit down with employees to discuss what improvements they would like to see in the office and bring them into the decision-making process.

“It’s not going to be a dictatorship. I don’t work that way,” he said. “You can’t work that way in a union environment.”

Mauck said he worked closely with the union while serving in the sheriff’s office. Because most assessor’s office employees are under union contract, Mauck said this experience gives him a leg up over his opponent, whose military leadership experience does not lend itself as easily to those kinds of negotiations, according to Mauck.

Both candidates said they would like to increase transparency and public education. For Mauck, this would look like teaching the public how to access and interpret data from the assessor’s office and clearing up misconceptions about the relationship between property value and tax rates.

Kubisiak said he would like to send out quarterly newsletters with relevant information about the office’s evaluation cycle, housing market trends, ongoing development projects and more.

Mauck is running as a Republican and Kubisiak filed without a party preference. Nonetheless, both identify as fiscal conservatives, and each has received bipartisan support. Mauck said he was endorsed by two county commissioners — Democrat Melanie Bacon and Republican Jill Johnson. Kubisiak said he received endorsements from current assessor Upchurch, a Republican, and former assessor Dave Mattens, a Democrat. Kubisiak also said that current assessor’s office employees also support his candidacy.

Both candidates said they intend to stick to the rules and not let party politics influence what should be an apolitical position.

“I’m running as nonpartisan for a reason, because I don’t think there should be partisan politics in the assessor’s office,” Kubisiak said.

T.J. Kubisiak