John Emerson says that walking down to the county elections office and filing to run for property appraiser seemed like the right thing to do when his boss, Alvin Mazourek, announced late last year that he would not seek another term.
"Mr. Mazourek wants to retire. I like it there. I like the job,'' said Emerson, who has worked in the office for 23 years. "There are still some things to do, and I don't want to leave.''
Emerson said he waited to see if anyone would come forward to challenge him, and, in the final days before qualifying, someone did — a 41-year-old roofing contractor, James B. "Jamie" Williams. Like Emerson, Williams is a Republican.
Since the day he qualified, however, Williams has largely been invisible.
While Emerson said he has made the rounds of Republican clubs and has attended numerous community events and political forums, he has not seen his opponent. That's because Williams landed in the hospital on qualifying day after falling off his roof while cleaning his gutters.
He broke both ankles, one bad enough to require surgery and a cast. The cast came off July 11, but doctors told him to keep weight off the ankles for a couple of months.
That has prevented him from doing much campaigning. But Williams said he has been reading up on the responsibilities of the property appraiser.
Born in Michigan, Williams grew up in Hernando County, graduating from Hernando High School. He is a member of the board of the Hernando County Fair Association.
While Williams has no training or experience in real estate sales or appraisals, he says he decided to run for the job because he thinks he can make a difference.
"I'd like to see the values of the houses increase,'' he said. "But with the real estate market, it's hard to say.''
An Army veteran who also worked six years as a field technician for the Southwest Florida Water Management District, Williams says he would hope to make up for his lack of experience in the appraisal world with a hunger for learning, his enjoyment of leadership opportunities and the fact that he is a quick study.
In 2010, Williams was charged with driving under the influence. Upon conviction, he faced a 90-day license suspension. Williams says the experience was embarrassing and that he has since given up drinking.
Williams said he had no criticisms of Emerson or the current operation of the appraiser's office. He also had no specific improvements to recommend or changes he would make, if elected.
Emerson has lived his entire life in Hernando County, except for a period from 1973 to 1988, when he worked in appraisals in Citrus County. He worked as a commercial appraiser for the previous property appraiser and was promoted to director of real property.
In 2007, Mazourek asked him if he would be chief deputy, and he has held that position ever since.
Emerson says he and Mazourek largely have been on the same page with how to run the office, and he wouldn't expect much change if he is elected. He did say that he would continue to follow through with technology upgrades that would improve the office's efficiency.
Switching from paper reports to the use of electronic tablets has been a big plus as staff members conduct their regular property reviews, Emerson said. The five staff reviewers take their tablets into the field and enter all of the data. Then they can come back to the office and download the information into the computer.
That has allowed the office to go from three people to one person doing data entry and checking that all of the forms are filled out.
The office also recently started online homestead exemptions, and other forms will follow.
"Technology has helped a whole lot,'' Emerson said. ''We're trying to find more ways to do a good job and use technology.''
Since no other candidates from other parties qualified for the property appraiser's job, the race lands on the universal primary ballot, which means that all registered voters — not just Republicans — get to cast ballots.
Emerson has raised about $16,700 in cash to support his campaign; Williams shows just $150 in his campaign account.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.