For a job that requires sound judgment and a commitment to fair play, the choice could not be clearer. Former state Rep. Bob Henriquez is a thoughtful and positive-thinking leader who can restore public confidence in the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser's Office. Republican state Sen. Ronda Storms has been a divisive figure throughout her political career. More upheaval is the last thing this office needs as it faces its first leadership change in 16 years.
Henriquez, 48, is a Tampa native who formerly worked for the local builders association and as a county planner. The Democrat represented West Tampa for four terms in the House, ending in 2006. He worked as a regional administrator for the state Department of Children and Families from 2008 to 2011 and now is the head football coach at his alma mater, Tampa Catholic High School. His deep roots in the community and first-hand experience in the executive and legislative branches give him a solid grasp of local economic conditions and an awareness of how to administer the office.
The appraiser's job, though, involves more than a ceremonial task of applying state standards for valuating property. County appraisers make judgment calls as a matter of routine on what to include on the tax rolls and how aggressively to price the market. The office also deals with individual property owners, and the procedures it adopts for people to contest an appraisal can shape the outcome of a county's tax roll — and the underlying fairness of the very system for financing the government.
That's why judgment and fair play are so vital for maintaining the public's trust. Storms, 47, has made her political reputation by playing off one group of people against another. While representing east Hillsborough on the County Commission, Storms regularly belittled people outside her circle — from urban residents to gay residents. Her slash-and-burn style was a principal reason the commission was described as dysfunctional by other elected officials — and by commissioners themselves. And her demeaning approach would hardly instill a culture of teamwork in an office still shaken by outgoing leader Rob Turner's pornographic email scandal.
Neither candidate brings a particularly impressive background to this office. Both appear competent enough to produce a timely tax roll, improve the office's website and address other minor issues that have consumed this campaign. Henriquez, though, has a track record of being more open and fair throughout his career in public service. He doesn't bring the same drama or baggage to the office, and his good working relationship with both city and county officials would help get this operation back on its feet. Two no-party candidates, James DeMio, 46, and Robert Townsend, 54, are not viable alternatives.
For Hillsborough County property appraiser, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Bob Henriquez.