Mecklenburg’s county commissioners are not personnel directors. They don’t dig deep into the minutiae of hiring county employees, which is a good thing, given that Mecklenburg has about 4,000 full- and part-time workers. But some of those employees occupy important positions, and one of those is Revaluation Manager, the person who leads the county’s effort to determine your property’s tax value.
Mecklenburg is still sorting through its defective 2011 revaluation, a mess that has undermined public trust and cost the county millions. So it’s understandable that Mecklenburg commissioners have been asking questions recently about the county’s June 2012 hiring of Kimberly Horton, formerly the Alamance County tax administrator, as Revaluation Manager. We believe there are more questions to ask.
Horton resigned from her Alamance County position in 2009 amid controversy over a flawed revaluation. She also was a party in a lawsuit in which Alamance accused her of improperly recommending a company she worked for, RS&M Appraisal Services, to perform that revaluation. Mecklenburg commissioners learned about Horton’s history only recently, however, and they rightly wondered last week why they weren’t told about it by county staff.
The answer, from Mecklenburg General Manager Bobbie Shields: No worries. “This is old news and was known and vetted by the county before Ms. Horton was hired,” Shields said in an email to commissioners last week. Shields helpfully forwarded an August email from former Mecklenburg Tax Assessor Garrett Alexander assuring county staff that a panel from Mecklenburg’s real property division found the issues involving Horton to be “politically motivated” and “unsubstantiated.”
That’s news to Clyde Albright, attorney for Alamance County. Albright, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Alamance County, told the Observer editorial board Wednesday that he hadn’t heard from anyone in Mecklenburg. If someone had called, Albright could have said that although the lawsuit between RS&M, Alamance and Horton was settled, Alamance stands by its accusations against Horton. Albright said Wednesday that he showed Horton pay stubs for work she did for RS&M while employed full-time by Alamance County. RS&M’s owner confirmed the work in depositions. Neither told Alamance commissioners about that relationship when presenting RS&M’s bid.
That alone might’ve been enough to give Mecklenburg County officials pause, had they bothered to give Albright a call. But Albright also told the editorial board that the Alamance revaluation Horton oversaw was deeply flawed, with property owners appealing half of the 64,000 values. “We’re still working through them all,” he said of the appeals.
All of which leaves Mecklenburg commissioners with more questions to ask. Why did no one from Mecklenburg bother to call the attorney for the county that filed allegations against Horton? Did officials just take Horton’s word that the charges against her were politically motivated? Also, was it too much to expect that Mecklenburg hire a revaluation manager who didn’t share our experience in botched revaluations?
And finally, why were Mecklenburg commissioners left in the dark – once again? County staffers, led by manager Harry Jones, have a history of not communicating important information to commissioners. No, the board doesn’t need to be involved in every interview with prospective county employees, but given the public fury surrounding Mecklenburg’s last revaluation, county staffers were too casual – and too quiet – about potential problems with this critical hire.