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Tax Appeals Flap Draws Ire of Supervisors : Bureaucracy: Steiner says that Clerk of the Board Phyllis A. Henderson and possibly others should resign. Clerk disputes assessor's pinning blame on her.

October 29, 1994|MATT LAIT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — Fallout from the mishandling of more than 170 property assessment appeals continued Friday, with some county supervisors considering asking Clerk of the Board Phyllis A. Henderson to resign, county officials said.

"I've lost confidence in her office," said Supervisor William G. Steiner. "I've suggested that maybe she consider resigning."

But Steiner added that he thought "there are a whole cast of characters who are responsible, and I don't necessarily want her to be a sacrificial lamb when others have responsibility."

Meanwhile, the finger-pointing on the appeals blunder escalated, with Henderson disputing comments from Assessor Bradley L. Jacobs that she was to blame for allowing the two-year deadline on appeals to expire. The snafu could end up costing the county millions of dollars.

Since the discovery of the problem last week, county officials have set about to correct the situation and determine who is responsible. A preliminary review of the appeals process seems to indicate that the system is severely flawed, county officials said.

State officials said Orange County is apparently the only county in California that requires property owners to file appeals of their tax bills with the assessor, instead of the clerk of the board. The practice raises potential conflict-of-interest issues and may be a violation of state law, they said.

On Thursday, Jacobs said he had asked Henderson at least half a dozen times over the past several years to take over the process of receiving the appeals. He said that, even though the clerk is responsible for tracking the deadlines on the appeals, he used to send her warning notices and status reports to alert her when deadlines were approaching. Jacobs said he stopped sending Henderson those notices in July after she requested that he stop.

Henderson said Friday that she never requested that Jacobs stop sending those alerts, nor did the assessor ever ask her to take over the process of receiving the appeals. In a statement released from her office, Henderson said that, ever since she was appointed to her position in 1992, Jacobs has never returned her phone calls and she has never been able to meet with him.

Since the mistake on the 179 appeal cases, Henderson has disciplined one of her employees, whom she refused to identify. County sources said Friday the employee is her top assistant, Nancy K. Swanson. Henderson would only say that Swanson, who was responsible for the appeals, will no longer handle that job.

Swanson declined to comment.

The bickering between the county departments has frustrated some county supervisors. The board is apparently looking into revoking recent raises given to Henderson and Jacobs. Several of the supervisors have suggested that additional disciplinary actions and resignations may be in order.

Henderson was appointed to her position and is accountable to the Board of Supervisors. Her duties include handling the agendas and records for the Board of Supervisors, as well as being the supervising clerk for the Assessment Appeals Board. Jacobs is an elected official and does not report to the board.

"It is embarrassing," said Supervisor Roger R. Stanton about the appeals mess. He said he would like to "pin down the responsibility. Maybe it's shared guilt."

Stanton said he has not asked for Henderson's resignation. But, he said, "I'd be the last person to talk somebody out of offering their resignation. . . . I still want to hear from both sides of the story. . . . If she resigns, she resigns, but we still have to contend with Brad Jacobs."

Steiner said he has grave concerns about the clerk's office. He said that not only does he think Henderson should consider resigning, but that Swanson might also think about doing so.

Supervisor Harriett M. Wieder said she is waiting to learn more about the foul-up and who is responsible before deciding what type of board action may be necessary. She said some of her colleagues may be "shooting from the hip and looking for a scapegoat."

Supervisors Gaddi H. Vasquez and Thomas F. Riley could not be reached for comment.

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