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Gorman is busy learning the ropes

Dennis WebbGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Post Independent/Kara K. Pearson
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Silt Mayor Dave Moore hasn’t forgotten why he stuck his neck out as a Republican and endorsed Democrat John Gorman in the race for Garfield County assessor.Neither has Gorman, despite the low profile he has kept since defeating incumbent assessor Shannon Hurst in November and taking office in January.Gorman won the hotly contested race based on the contention that energy companies aren’t being assessed for the full taxable value of the natural gas they are producing in the county. But after passing his 100-day mark in office, he’s the first to admit that he has yet to act on his promise of cracking down on that industry.For now, he says, he has kept plenty busy learning the intricacies of the assessor’s office and familiarizing himself with his new employees.Moore joined all of Garfield County’s mayors in endorsing Gorman, chiefly because of his campaign pledge involving the energy industry.”I’ve had mayors say, ‘We’re watching you,'” Gorman said. “There’s an expectation, and there should be an expectation, and they should be watching me because that’s why I’m here. I’m mostly doing the rest of the job, but that (holding the industry accountable) has to be done and will be done.”Moore thinks it’s fair not to expect Gorman to start acting on his promise until he’s had six months to get settled into his new job. Still, he plans on holding Gorman to his campaign pledge, never mind their 35-year friendship.”I would be embarrassed, after all the support I gave John, if John would ignore his promises. I would be embarrassed and disappointed and angry, probably. Well, I would be angry. He knows I would be.”Gorman assures he hasn’t forgotten why he was elected.”My process is first I had to get to know the staff; they had to get to know me. I had to get to know the process in this office and then I can begin to address reasonably the issues that put me in here.”

Gorman seems like an unlikely potential thorn in the side of the county’s multi-billion-dollar energy industry as he sits in his quiet office during lunch hour on a recent Friday. His feet are clad in his ever-present Birkenstock sandals, a Peet’s coffee poster on his wall testifies to his love of java, and he talks in his soft-spoken way about baking some biscotti for his staff. His affinities led employees to make up a “Gorman’s Bistro” sign that they taped to his door.The lighthearted gesture is one indication of how relations have improved between Gorman and his staff since they first greeted him with caution. “Now they’re beginning to know who I really am,” he said.The possibility of high staff turnover loomed due to the change in leadership. But only person left, and that person had been planning to leave anyway, Gorman said. His office has a staff of 16.Gorman also started in the office as it was dealing with a county salary study whose conclusions didn’t fully mesh with the office’s needs. Gorman said new job classifications threatened to result in underpaying people who work in the front of the office and play a key role interacting with the public.He and deputy assessor Lisa Warder spent more than a week getting salaries squared away – something that helped get him off on the right foot with his employees.”Working with her, we were able to get done what seemed reasonable to me and what she saw as the necessary, fair and right thing to do,” he said.When Gorman started, the assessor’s office also was in the middle of the property reappraisals it does every two years. He said he was able to help mostly by doing some clerical work and staying out of the way of appraisers.He hopes to have completed basic appraisal classes by the end of the year, and also has taken administrative courses while undergoing some training aimed at preparing him to focus on oil and gas production assessments. Gorman isn’t required to be a certified appraiser to be assessor, but thinks he should be one if he is going to manage appraisers.Warder, who Gorman said has played an invaluable role in the transition, thinks the lack of a mass exodus says something about Gorman.”I think things are going really well. It’s been a very, very smooth transition. He’s very easy to work with. He has an insatiable need to learn everything and he’s a hard worker and the people can see that and that helps, so he’s doing a good job,” Warder said.

Warder credits him for coming into office “with a very gentle tread,” letting people do their jobs rather than imposing directives, even though she knows Gorman has things he eventually wants to accomplish once he’s ready.”I think that’s a sign of a very good leader,” she said.Warder said she immensely respects Hurst’s skills and misses her “every day.” She didn’t know what to expect with Gorman’s takeover of the office.”I think he’s taken exactly the steps that he needed to take with that office,” she said.She added, “The team that is in place there is very dedicated to public service, especially during a reappraisal year. I think if any one of us had left, it would have been so hard on the rest of us because there was so much work to be done.”Said Gorman, “These people are hard-working, competent, fun-loving and just a great group of people. I feel incredibly fortunate and blessed with the staff as it exists.”



Gorman hasn’t been ignoring the oil and gas front altogether. He is beginning to look into seeking bids from companies wanting to do audits of gas production. Meanwhile, he’s in the middle of working with Visual Leasing Services of Oklahoma to inspect well-site equipment, compressor stations, pipelines and other property for assessment purposes. Hurst first worked on bringing in the company, which is starting to do inspections this month. Gorman has been working with energy companies to arrange access to their facilities.Susan Alvillar, spokesperson for Williams Production, the county’s largest natural gas producer, said Williams is “continuing to cooperate with the new assessor and his staff as we have in the past with that office. From our perspective things are going smoothly.”Gorman said he has been surprised how much of his job involves public relations and contact with the public.”There’s also a group of usual suspects. They have issues with this office and they always have and they always will,” he said.The number of people likely to grumble that their property has been overvalued for tax purposes will only increase when they receive their tax notices following the latest reassessment. Those notices will show increases averaging 25-30 percent for residential properties and 30 to 40 percent for commercial ones.In cases where properties were undervalued before, “our adjustments this time, because we keep trying to get it accurate, are going to be shocking,” Gorman said.”People need to be surprised and delighted with their increased equity,” Gorman said with a slight grin. “I want to be surprised and delighted at how few people protest their values.”Gorman has been frustrated by the many deadlines he has had to meet since taking office. But he said energy companies can continue to count on him following through on his promise to the public to look closely at gas production.”I think they know that this is coming, that it had to happen. They also know that my focus is going to be on this and I will not let up,” he said.Contact Dennis Webb: 384-9119dwebb@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO


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