Complaints from within the Mono County Assessor’s Office prompted a Grand Jury investigation of the Office which was released to great fanfare a few months back.
On Tuesday, Sept. 15 at the Mono County Supervisors regular meeting, Mono County Assessor, Barry Beck made his first public response to the Grand Jury report.
The Grand Jury report alleged three points; “a hostile work environment, unrealistic workloads, and unauthorized computer access.”
The Grand Jury report states that following the 2014 election of a new Assessor, the office staff had split, one camp endorsing Beck, the other not. One or more employees filed a harassment complaint with the Public Employees Union following the election, in the first months of 2015. The complaint and conclusions from the subsequent investigation have not been made public, protected by attorney/client privilege.
The first complaint, a “hostile work environment” deals with Beck’s alleged micro-management of the department, arranging desks so he could “keep an eye” on what they were doing and that Beck used inappropriate language. The Grand Jury report states that interviews with employees proved the office was divided; some employees recounting Beck’s retaliatory tactics against employees who did not back him in the election; other employees told the jury that the other employees had to “let go” of past election results.
Beck admitted there are some “personality conflicts” at the department, but the department is far from dysfunctional. He added the office is “not overloaded” and is in fact embarking on a new program. This after having completed the 2015 assessment roll of 4,430 properties reviewed individually, 10 days ahead of schedule and, according to Beck, this was the first time he could remember the roll being 100 percent complete. The roll includes, also for the first time, more than 900 mining claims.
The office has been busy, resolving more than 135 assessment appeals and processed 36 Calamity Claims from the Round Fire and there is little to no backlog of pending transfers.
The office is working on 123 appeals with more than 60 of those with Ormat Technologies, the owners of local geothermal power generating sites. The appeals total approximately $340 million in assessed value, some dating back to 2010. He explained that those with appeals still receive property tax bills, but they are based on previous assessments.
Beck said there is no evidence of allegations that past assessors have accessed employee computers. Beck said he has never accessed another employees computer.
“The workload is kind of light,” Beck said and the office is starting a new project aimed at simplifying and more accurately identifying parcels. The pre-2008 system of numbering parcels, specifically condominiums, made it difficult for homeowners to know if the tax they were paying was actually for the property they owned.
There are seven employees at the office. with two positions, including an Assistant Assessor position, which are currently unfilled – but budgeted for.
The California State Board of Equalization will visit the Assessor’s Office for the month of September to survey workloads, accuracy and legal compliances.
Employees unhappy with their superiors but afraid to talk about it seems to be a running theme in this current news cycle, i.e., disgruntled employees from Northern Inyo Hospital, Bishop PD. In this unprecedented time of communication possibilities and technological advances, people still can’t talk to each other about what’s bugging them.
Beck has promised an official written response to the Grand Jury report to be released within the next month.