Voters in the Nov. 6 general election might be a bit unfamiliar with casting ballots for property appraiser. The last time Pasco's Republican and Democratic parties both fielded candidates for this constitutional office was the 1984 election cycle that saw Ronald Reagan's return to the White House and the election of a political newcomer to the Pasco Commission — Mike Wells.
That newbie is now 65 and seeking his fifth term as property appraiser, a job he won after a successful career on the commission. He faces his first-ever Democratic challenger for appraiser, Allison S. Newlon, 42, a real estate broker in San Antonio. But he still merits re-election.
Newlon is critical of Wells' work habits, says his office website needs improvement and promises better service. Unfortunately, her own snarky comments are problematic. In an interview, she said she'd never met a man good at multitasking. It hints at a gender bias that does not instill confidence in her ability to manage nearly four dozen full-time employees.
She advocates allowing the public to file tangible personal property tax returns online, but Wells said he quit offering that service when the owners of just 12 of the 40,000 eligible returns chose to file electronically. He says it's an operation he'll resume when public demand warrants.
As stated during the primary election, Wells is more than a government service provider; he is a civic institution whose fingerprints are all over the county including its parks, libraries and mass transit systems, all of which he championed during his eight years on the commission.
Since winning the property appraiser's post in 1996, the office has come to symbolize government efficiency. A staff that formerly numbered 72 full-time employees has been reduced to 50 people, three of whom work part-time. As government revenues declined, so too did Wells' budget without a noticeable drop in service. The nearly $4.9 million budget of five years ago is down to $4.1 million, a 16-percent reduction that can be attributed to hard-working employees and new technology.
Wells was the leader at the government center in embracing the digital age and his office developed its own website to provide appraisal and exemption information to residents, businesses and real estate professionals. The website went on line in 1999, and last year received 1.7 million unique visits.
However, even civic institutions can use some touch up once in a while and Wells would be wise to rededicate his energies to his duties as property appraiser. His work ethic came into question in an August television news report that found Wells at home in the middle of a work day, an absence he blamed on illness.
Despite that hiccup, there is no evidence that Wells is out of touch. He is a responsible steward of the public purse and he personally approves all public expenditures over $100, signs every check in the office, and requires three bids or state contract pricing on every item costing more than $500. How would this work get done if he was sitting home all the time? This is a professionally run office that performs its public service admirably.
The Tampa Bay Times recommends voters re-elect Mike Wells as Pasco property appraiser in the Nov. 6 general election.