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Appraisal System Overhaul in Pierce County

Appraisal System Overhaul in Pierce County

The current Pierce County assessor-treasurer, Richard Dale Washam, was elected in 2008 in the midst of a new balloting procedure.

His fiercest opponent, Ken Madsen, faced mud-slinging from Washam over his appraisal methods and was barred from running again due to term limits. In the past, Pierce County voters could choose between the two most popular assessor-treasurer candidates in a general election. Now, voters choose between six candidates, ranking their favorites from one to three. Washam won the most current election, winning about a quarter of the votes, but by no means did he win over the majority of Pierce County voters.

Washam's latest victory comes after years spent trying to recall former assessor-treasurer Ken Madsen, who was accused of relying on statistics to appraise Pierce County properties rather than use physical inspections. Madsen was not recalled, but wasn't able to run against Washam in 2008 due to term limits.

Pierce County’s “Recall King”

A lifelong whistleblower, Washam has been in and out of the courtroom for decades. Calling himself a "pro se attorney," he has spent countless hours in law libraries, researching ways to win arguments ranging from petty garbage bills to expensive discrimination cases. Although he has lost the majority of his numerous lawsuits and has been evicted by four separate landlords over the years, he has not given up his quest for justice.

Many people who know Washam do not consider him to be working-class hero. Although he did a brief stint in the Air Force and spent time selling RVs, trailers and veterinary pharmaceuticals, he has mostly been the champion of his own causes and has made a career out of trying to right others' supposed wrong-doings. "It's the principle of the thing" seems to be the motto throughout his life; the excuse for his dozens of attempts to rid the world of corruption.

The Political Employment Contract

Washam once said, "If we're not doing the job right, then our employer should be able to terminate us." He considers voters to be the "employer" in this case. In 1991, he came up with the idea for a "Political Employment Contract" that would allow voters to oust him if the majority signed a petition asking him to resign. When Newt Gingrich ran for office shortly thereafter, Washam attempted to sue him for stealing his contract idea. He lost the case, but it wasn't his last defeat. He spent the next ten years campaigning for various public offices, ranging from a local Democratic Party seat to a School Board seat to the assessor-treasurer position. Re-labeling himself a Democrat to an "Independent Democrat" to a Republican, an Independent, and finally back to a Republican, Washam tries to distance himself from the political groups that shun him.

Accusations in the Assessor-Treasurer’s Office

His latest victorious win was, however, short-lived. Recently, a recall petition was filed, asking for Washam's resignation amidst charges of retaliation and harassment against county employees, "mismanagement," "abuse of power" and other accusations. From the start, Washam has been using his new, six-figure salary to accuse employees of "falsifying" property records and protecting Madsen's appraisal methods. County employees claim that the reason for using statistics rather than physical inspections was due to the housing boom between 2005 and 2008, when the appraisal office was short-staffed. New homes were given priority during appraisals because the older homes did not change much in value at the time. In fact, homeowners were probably under-taxed during Madsen's time in office.

A report published on the Pierce County assessor-treasurer website details the office's achievements for 2009 and 2010. According to the report, over 52,000 physical inspections were made in 2009, including 15,000 physical inspections that were not completed in 2008. There were over 60,000 physical appraisals conducted this year and over 18,000 for the 2011 year. The board has responded to over 4,000 homeowner appeals from 2009. Residents may also check the appraiser's website for new details on taxes and appraisal data.




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