Assessor staff braces for change |

Assessor staff braces for change

Lisa Warder knew what she might be getting into when she first went to work in an office headed by an elected official.Until Wednesday, however, she never had to face the fact that her boss, and her future, could change at the whim of voters.Warder serves as “deputy dog,” she jokes. She’s the deputy Garfield County assessor. And on Tuesday, county voters decided to oust Republican Assessor Shannon Hurst in favor of Democratic challenger John Gorman. It was a rare contested election in an office where recent assessors have worked their way up the ranks internally to reach the top job. Gorman will be a newcomer to the office.”It was a little hard this morning,” Warder said, describing the mood within the 17-employee assessor’s office as employees digested the news of Hurst’s loss.While the possibility of a voter-imposed change in leadership comes with working in a government office, one thing won’t change, Warder said.”We’re always working for the people out there, no matter who the elected official is,” she said.Still, Warder and other employees assessor’s office are coming to grips with the idea that they’ll no longer be working for Hurst.”I know one thing. Shannon’s going to be sorely missed,” said Greg Wetzel, an appraiser in the office.He said the mood among employees is good, considering the circumstances.”They’re not happy with it, but sometimes you’ve got to accept change,” he said.Wetzel is frustrated by what he considered to be misinformation by Gorman during his campaign, in which he called for more aggressive auditing of the oil and gas industry to make sure companies are paying their fair share of taxes. Wetzel also said he thinks the assessor should be an appointed rather than elected position.”You ought to be at least a licensed appraiser to have this position,” he said.Gorman said he plans to take courses to get certified as an appraiser. Critics of his campaign cited his lack of experience in assessment and appraisal work.Warder said it can take a new appraiser two years to understand the workings of the office.Wetzel said he hopes he and his fellow employees can “go on doing what we do best, without friction.” He also hopes Warder will remain on the job, and said it would be a huge loss if she left.Warder said she “absolutely” plans to stay on, assuming Gorman wants to keep her.”I think I’m pretty good at what I do but you never know,” she said.Gorman on Wednesday reiterated his desire to rely on the current staff to help him learn the ins and outs of the job.”I want to be as open and welcoming as I possibly can because there’s a lot of great experience and a lot of great talent in that office,” he said. “I don’t want to foreclose on the possibility of taking advantage, for the benefit of Garfield County, of any and all of that experience and expertise. Everything’s on the table at this point.”Gorman said he also realizes that some people in the office may see the transition as a time to look for other jobs, such as in higher-paying private-sector appraisal work.He said it’s possible that he will meet with various staff between now and when he takes office Jan. 8.He hadn’t talked to Hurst as of Wednesday afternoon. He said he may write her, and then try to arrange meetings with her.”This a shock to anyone and I think you need some time, actually I need some time to understand what’s just happened, and I’m sure the same with Shannon. I’d like to give her that space,” he said.Hurst took Wednesday off from work after staying up late the night before to wait for final election results. She couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.Warder said Hurst will do all she can to make sure Gorman “is set up to succeed.””That’s just the kind of person she is,” Warder said.Warder’s own goal is “to make sure this transition is as smooth as can be, and make sure the work of the office gets done,” she said.It’s a busy time for the office, which has begun its property reappraisal process, something that takes place every two years.Gorman said the state Division of Property Taxation will provide an orientation class in January to 19 newly elected assessors, four of whom haven’t worked in an assessor’s office. Gorman then will join other assessors in attending a class reviewing laws pertaining to the office.In the meantime, he sought to ease any concerns among the present Garfield assessor staff.”We’ll work out ways where we can work together and make the assessor’s office a good place to be,” he said.Contact Dennis Webb:

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