The Sun Sentinel Editorial Board Endorsement of Dorothy Jacks for Palm Beach County Property Appraiser
The most qualified person to be Palm Beach County’s next property appraiser is Dorothy Jacks, the chief deputy of six-term Property Appraiser Gary Nikolits.
One of the least qualified persons to be Palm Beach County’s next property appraiser is her opponent – County Commissioner Shelley Vana.
Jacks has worked for the office since 1989. Among other things, she supervised creation of the office’s website that makes lots of information easy to access. Her peers made her vice president of a worldwide industry group and she becomes president next year. She knows the business.
Vana has no relevant experience. After serving as president of the county teachers union, she spent six years in the Legislature before winning a seat on the county commission in 2008.
The term-limited Vana dismisses her lack of qualifications by saying, in essence, that she would hire someone to do the real work. She refused to attend candidate interviews at the Sun Sentinel – too far to drive, too much to do – and Palm Beach Post. But Vana did say the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board should “feel free” to check her record.
So we did.
Over the last four years, Vana has cast votes that will bring urban sprawl to what have been mostly rural areas of the county. Neighbors opposed those projects. She didn’t listen.
Those votes gave developers far more than rules allowed. Vana also has cast votes that could bring more development to the Agricultural Reserve Area, on which the public spent $100 million to preserve farming. Vana voted to allow development of the former Mizner Trail Golf Course west of Boca Raton, though Boca Del Mar residents strongly opposed it. Typical of her brusqueness, Vana said the decision would bring them certainty.
Among Vana’s campaign contributions, we find $1,000 from Minto Communities, which from Vana got permission to build 50 percent more homes and nearly 10 times more commercial development in what is the new city of Westlake. We find money from interests that could benefit from all that new construction. We find money from Agricultural Reserve landowners who asked the county to give them more development rights. We find money from Boca Raton-based Compson, which from Vana got permission to develop Mizner Trail.
Since the appraiser’s job pays $161,586, perhaps Vana wants a final post to fatten her state pension. Whatever her motivation for running, the office is too important to trust to someone who lacks relevant experience.
If the annual property assessment – Vana said at one point that it was every five years – is not done properly and promptly, the county and the cities can’t complete their budgets on time. If the assessments are too high, property owners can pay too much in taxes. If assessments are too low, property owners can get an unfair break.
Fairness especially matters in Palm Beach County. In 1982, a jury convicted ex-Property Appraiser David Reid of taking bribes in exchange for lowering assessments.
Under Nikolits and Jacks, fairness rules. Last year, less than one percent of property owners challenged their assessment. Roughly half were settled before getting to the Value Adjustment Board. In Broward, the challenge rate was 2.3 percent. In Miami-Dade, it was 5 percent.
Jacks also has contributors who have an interest in the property appraiser’s office. But we agree with Jacks that most of those contributors want her to continue a pattern of fairness and accessibility. Jacks has endorsements from Realtors groups. She notes that if a homeowner calls with a question, the person can speak with the staff member who did the assessment.
Vana would want us to discuss Charles Stahman. Because Stahman entered as a write-in candidate, the Aug. 30 primary will decide the result. Stahman is a friend of Nikolits, who is supporting Jacks. Nikolits filled out Stahman’s filing papers.
Nikolits told Jacks that since some key administrators are retiring with him in January, deciding his successor in August would leave more time for transition. If Stahman is there to help Jacks in the lower-turnout primary, she is so qualified that she shouldn’t need such help.
Among Jacks’ other qualifications is the eight years she spent as a liaison to local governments. She knows the agencies that depend on the office.
As Jacks sees it, the race comes down to “a professional versus a politician.” The Sun-Sentinel strongly recommends that professional, Dorothy Jacks, for Palm Beach County Property Appraiser.
Read the full Sun Sentinel endorsement of Dorothy Jacks here: