Los Angeles County Assessor Alexander Pope, who suggested in 1984 that holders of his job be appointed rather than elected, now opposes a similar ballot measure being pushed by a political adversary, Supervisor Deane Dana.
The proposed measure, which the Board of Supervisors is scheduled to consider today for the June 3 ballot, would amend the County Charter so the assessor would be appointed by the board. If it passes, the remaining elected county officials would be the five supervisors, the district attorney and the sheriff.
Pope said Dana's proposal "opens the door for favoritism, corruption and higher property taxes. I will not be seeking reelection (to a third term) as assessor, but I am sufficiently concerned to feel compelled to speak out." Pope, first appointed assessor in 1978 to fill out an unexpired term, is expected to formally enter the race for a seat on the state Board of Equalization.
The dispute represents a lesser replay of the bitter campaign for supervisor in 1984 between Pope, a Democrat, and Dana, a Republican. Dana easily beat back the challenge.
The board's conservative majority of Dana, Pete Schabarum and Mike Antonovich has been openly critical of Pope ever since. The conservatives have been particularly irked over Pope's acknowledged reluctance to quickly reassess newly purchased properties so that the county treasury can collect more taxes at an earlier date. Pope has been working to repeal a controversial 1983 tax law that permits the earlier collections and has admitted the reassessments are a low priority in his office.
Last year, as a sign of its displeasure, the board majority rejected Pope's budget requests for additional staffing despite recommendations from Chief Administrative Officer James Hankla that the new personnel would lead to more income for the county.
Dana said in a recent interview that the change to an appointed rather than elected assessor would result in the strengthening of a "weak link" in the management of Los Angeles County. Most other department heads are appointed, he added.
Without referring directly to Pope, Dana said that under current law, there is no requirement that the assessor have any management skills. If the Charter change were approved, the Board of Supervisors could search for the most qualified person to run that county department, he added.
"In this day of mechanization, you really need someone acquainted with data processing and you also need a very strong manager in order to do this," Dana said. Dana also issued a quick reminder that the idea to appoint the assessor originally was Pope's.
Indeed, Pope in September, 1984--three months after losing to Dana--suggested that the job of assessor be appointive. He argued at the time that since the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, the office had lost much of its discretionary power. He added that the need to raise campaign funds, most of which come from property owners, creates a potential conflict of interest for assessor candidates.
Pope recently conceded that he made the suggestion, but explained that it was in the context of companion proposals that would, among other things, expand the Board of Supervisors from five to seven members. He added he would still favor an appointed assessor, but only if it were for a five-year term with removal only for "specified malfeasance."
"We need more elected officials in this county of 8.2 million people, not less," Pope said. "The appointment of one of the supervisors' deputies to the assessor's spot . . . is not what I consider to be a reform measure that would make county government more representative or more efficient."
Pope was referring to rumors circulating through county government last week that Dana was pushing the measure so that his top deputy, Don Knabe, could ultimately be named to the $83,000 post. Knabe told The Times he was not interested in becoming assessor.
And Dana, also denying the rumor, said, "I have no one in my office who is qualified for this job."