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Orange County Elections : Race for County Assessor, Usually a Quiet One, Goes Into High Gear

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Times Urban Affairs Writer

Campaigns for county assessor are usually subdued, but Thursday both candidates were dodging shrapnel.

First, Assessor Brad Jacobs held a news conference at the county Hall of Administration to denounce David J. Holbert, his June 3 election opponent, as an unexceptional, low-grade employee on Jacobs’ staff who has not been promoted in more than 10 years and who is trying to “buy the office for personal gain.”

Holbert’s campaign has $213,795, of which about $210,000 is from his deceased mother’s estate, while Jacobs has raised $12,863, of which $8,509 is his own money.

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“For him (Holbert) to just buy an election is wrong,” Jacobs said at the news conference.

The 11-year incumbent also charged that Holbert, an assessor’s appraiser for 14 years, had violated county campaign regulations by not filing copies of his campaign literature within three hours of public distribution.

Campaign Falsehoods

Finally, Jacobs charged that the literature contains several falsehoods, including statements implying that Jacobs opposed Proposition 13, the 1978 tax reform initiative approved by voters. Jacobs termed the charge a “baldfaced lie” and said he was the first county assessor in the state to implement Proposition 13 after the election.

Jacobs said he would ask the county’s Fair Campaign Practices Commission to rule that Holbert’s campaign mail has misled voters. The panel may hear the matter Saturday.

But the ink was not even dry on Jacobs’ complaint Thursday when Holbert responded that “Brad Jacobs may have been the first assessor to implement Proposition 13, but he was also the first to violate it.”

Holbert produced a photocopy of an internal assessor’s office memorandum, dated Nov. 5, 1984, in which he said the assessor’s staff was instructed to discontinue the practice of reducing tax bills for people whose property had declined in value.

The memo, from managing appraiser James Bell, stated:

“Except when there is a timely appeal filed, we will no longer this year be able to make assessment roll corrections because of economic obsolescence (changes in property value). This is made necessary due to the workload for the supplemental and regular roll. I will be giving you soon a form letter to be used in answering economic obsolescence complaints.”

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‘Law Violated’

Holbert contended that this order “directly violates provisions of the law.”

But Bell said the memo only reflected a temporary workload problem connected with a change in the law requiring the assessor to correct the tax rolls to reflect property sales as soon as they occur, instead of waiting for the normal reassessment the following fiscal year.

“We still went ahead and corrected some assessments that needed downward adjustments,” Bell said. “And we have an ongoing program for doing that. Nobody is being shortchanged.”

Jacobs said that Holbert’s use of the memo for campaign purposes “demonstrates his lack of knowledge of what’s going on . . . . The real issues are that he’s trying to buy the election when he doesn’t have the experience and knowledge for the job, whereas I do.”

Meanwhile, Holbert admitted that he had violated the campaign regulation that requires him to file samples of campaign literature within three hours of public dissemination.

Not Familiar

“My campaign consultant and I were not familiar with that county ordinance,” Holbert said. “It was brought to our attention by the registrar of voters, and now we’re in total compliance.”

Holbert also said he had not been promoted during the past decade because he had not applied for higher positions. “I like my work,” he said. “There are more important things in life than money.”

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Holbert’s annual salary is about $34,000. Jacobs’ salary is $70,907. Assessors are elected to four-year terms.

Late Thursday, Mark Howell, Holbert’s campaign manager, complained that Jacobs had failed to deliver copies of two slate-endorsement mailings to the registrar’s office as required by county regulations.

A slate mailing urges voters to support a specific list of candidates or positions on ballot measures.

Howell alleged that one mailer listing Jacobs, Republican candidates and some nonpartisan candidates was sent to Republican households, while the other was aimed at Democrats.

Statewide Furor

The mailers created a statewide furor because some of the candidates listed did not know their names would appear, and in some cases they were paired with other candidates or ballot measures they oppose or have not taken a position on.

Jacobs apparently paid to have his name placed on both slates, but he was unavailable for comment late Thursday.

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Meanwhile, Howell charged that Jacobs was hypocritical for stating earlier that he is a nonpartisan, nonpolitical person holding an essentially nonpolitical post. “If that’s true,” said Howell, “then why advertise yourself in two partisan campaign mailings?”

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