The Los Angeles County assessor, a relatively obscure nonpartisan elected official, has an important function: He or she oversees what in terms of land value is the largest property-taxing jurisdiction in the nation. One of only three countywide offices (the sheriff and district attorney are the other two), the assessor has an annual budget of $85 million and a staff of almost 2,000 that is responsible for determining property tax bills. The department identifies the ownership of all taxable property and establishes value for assessments and reassessments. It's a key function that provides a major chunk of county revenue.
However, the assessor's office long has suffered from serious leadership and morale problems that cannot but affect the quality of work being done there. The petty backbiting that plagued the assessor's race, both this year and four years ago, is enough to give free elections a bad name.
Those problems are the main reasons The Times cannot endorse either the current assessor, Kenneth P. Hahn, or his leading rival, former Assessor John Lynch. There are 14 other candidates; it's a pathetic comment on this race that several have been accused of being Lynch stooges who ran in order to force Hahn into a runoff.
Our choice for assessor is John Carl Brogdan, a now-retired veteran of the office who well understands its workings and the principles of leadership and organization. Brogdan has promised to return fairness and calmness so that staffers can get on with backlogged work. That alone would be a major feat, given recent history.
Hahn, (no relation to former Supervisor Kenneth Hahn) came into office four years ago after the tumultuous term of Lynch, who had the reputation for having a volatile temper. Lynch threw county auditors out of his office and was accused of assaulting an employee, a charge he denied. Hahn came into office largely by way of having a name nearly identical to one of the county's most popular politicians ever. While Hahn can rightly claim he made some improvements in the office, he has shown poor judgment that led to him being embroiled in a lawsuit filed by Lynch; Hahn now admits that after the last election, he sent a series of unsigned notes to Lynch that prompted the former assessor to claim harassment. Although Hahn appropriately questions the political timing of Lynch's lawsuit, he also acknowledges that his sophomoric actions hardly command respect.
Brogdan has been out of the assessor's office for two years, but that could turn out to be an asset. He does need to demonstrate that he has the energy to go back to work and do the job that needs doing.
In any case, the one thing on which 14 assessor candidates can agree is that there should be no continuation of the Lynch-Hahn years. The Times endorses John Carl Brogdan.