Los Angeles County supervisors are slated to appoint a new acting head in the assessor’s office, which has been rocked by allegations that Assessor John Noguez and others traded bribes for lower property tax bills.
Noguez, who was elected assessor in 2010, still officially holds the top position but has been on paid leave for more than a year since the district attorney opened an investigation that led to charges against him, one of his top aides and a tax consultant.
Noguez is charged with 30 felony counts, including accepting bribes, perjury and misappropriation of public funds. He has maintained that he is innocent but took a voluntary paid leave of absence from the post in June 2012 to prepare his defense. He was criminally charged in October, along with Mark McNeil, an executive in the assessor's office, and tax agent and major campaign contributor Ramin Salari.
The Board of Supervisors is expected to vote Tuesday to appoint Assistant Assessor Sharon Moller to take over as chief deputy assessor and de facto head of the department in Noguez's absence. Santos Kreimann, who had held the post since Noguez went on leave, was recently appointed to an executive position in the county's chief executive office and began work there Monday.
Kreimann said in an email to assessor's department employees that his tenure there was always intended to be temporary and that he had the "utmost confidence" in Moller.
"I was charged with stabilizing the office, helping establish direction, and restoring the public’s trust in the office," he wrote. "Together, we have accomplished those objectives, and now, as a good county 'soldier,' I must go where I am asked and continue to be of service to the county."
Moller was in an all-day leadership development session and could not be reached for comment Monday. She is a 23-year veteran of the assessor’s office and had held several management positions before Kreimann appointed her assistant assessor in October.
She contributed $1,000 to Noguez’s campaign in 2010 but later butted heads with his administration. McNeil, the Noguez aide who was charged along with him, wrote a lengthy memo in December 2011 in which he accused Moller and former department employee Dave Zoraster of “management insubordination” and of “subjecting a known donor and political supporter to what seems to be a biased appraisal.” He also mocked the outfits the two wore to an assessment appeals hearing.
Moller and Zoraster had advocated for a higher valuation on a property represented by Salari, who is accused of paying bribes in exchange for lower property assessments for his clients.
Zoraster, a former Noguez deputy who resigned over Salari's influence in the office, said of Moller, "I think she understands appraisal better than most people, and I think she can stand up under pressure. Sharon stood up to Salari when nobody else was going to."
If her appointment is approved, Moller will make a salary of $161,252 as chief deputy of the office.
The assessor's post is up for election again in June 2014. According to the county registrar, the candidate filing period for the election does not open until February, but four people -- Omar Haroon, John Loew, John Morris and John Wong -- have already filed statements that allow them to begin fundraising for the contest.
Noguez has not said publicly if he will run for reelection but has so far not heeded calls to step down. He has received two annual cost-of-living raises while out on leave that boosted his annual salary from about $192,000 to $201,392. His attorney could not be reached for comment Monday.
The supervisors in December considered using a little-known provision in state law that would allow them to declare the assessor's position vacant because Noguez -- who was in jail at the time -- had not performed his job duties in three months. But after a closed-door meeting, they opted not to act.
The supervisors have since banned campaign contributions to assessor candidates by tax agents and approved new rules requiring tax agents to register with the county, similar to lobbyists.
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