Gorman beats Hurst in assessor race
Challenger John Gorman’s single-minded focus on making Garfield County’s energy industry pay its fair share of taxes paid off for him Tuesday night as he was elected county assessor.The Democrat unseated Republican Shannon Hurst 7,580-6,992.What is often an uncontested position became the county’s hottest election race because of Gorman’s desire to make sure the oil and gas industry is properly assessed for tax purposes.”I think we had the right issue. I had a fantastic campaign committee and succession of people managing me,” Gorman said.Said Hurst, “It’s pretty disappointing but he ran a good race so what can I say. And it looks like from the results people voted heavily Democratic. If you look at the results they’re all that way.”Democrats won every contested Garfield County election except one. Hurst blamed her loss partly on a more widespread backlash against Republicans, “and partly I just lost fair and square,” she said.She thinks the assessor race in some ways became a larger referendum on the oil and gas industry locally. While bringing economic benefits, it also has created some negative impacts.Earlier this year, Gorman had led an unsuccessful state petition drive to get a measure on the ballot seeking to provide fair compensation for property owners affected by development of underlying mineral rights.
But he said he didn’t hear voters on the campaign trail talking about the assessor’s race as a referendum.More simply, “They don’t like the idea of paying other people’s taxes. I asked that question of 500 people at least and not one of them like that idea,” he said.If the industry isn’t paying all the taxes it should, other local taxpayers end up paying more. Gorman’s goal is to audit the industry to make sure they pay the proper proportion of taxes. He also wants to go after what he contends are millions of dollars in back taxes owed by the industry.Hurst had maintained her office was working diligently to make sure the industry was properly assessed, including through an audit.”I think that maybe there were some misunderstandings out there. I tried to get the message out but maybe I didn’t do a good job as far as the audit goes,” she said.The issue became more heated when Mary Ellen Denomy, who was hired by the county to do some oil and gas auditing, quit. She said Hurst had made her a target of her election campaign and failed to share necessary financial documents to do her work. Hurst denied withholding documents from her.Hurst on Tuesday called Denomy’s action “a political ploy” that hurt Hurst’s campaigns. Denomy has maintained politics didn’t drive her actions.Hurst, a Republican, had worked in the assessor’s office since 1984 and been assessor since 2001. She was appointed to replace Steve Rippy, who left to become New Castle town administrator. She ran unopposed for the office the following year.Hurst contended during the campaign that her office has a lot of responsibilities besides assessing the oil and gas industry, and that Gorman lacked the qualifications and commitment to be able to do those jobs well.
In taking on the job, Gorman plans to draw in part on the expertise of those working in the assessor’s office.”Hopefully most of those will continue to be employed and do the things they know how to do very well,” he said.Hurst worries that some of her staff will resign.”If the key people leave he’s going to have a very hard time. He’s not going to know the job at all. And he made it clear he’s not going to be a career government employee, he’s just going to do oil and gas and leave, and that really concerns me,” she said.”But life goes on and things happen for a reason and I’m sure things will turn out all right in the end.”Hurst said she’s not sure what she will do next in life.”We’ll just wait and see what happens,” she said.Gorman called it “heartening and a little disturbing to win, of course, because it’s a big job and I have some promises to keep that are substantial. But I’m excited and gratified.”
He gave the credit for his victory to friends and family “just people who saw an issue and I guess a candidate that they thought could pull it off. They got behind me and in fact they won this race.”Contact Dennis Webb: firstname.lastname@example.org
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