Four years ago, voters in Los Angeles County welcomed the opportunity to replace Assessor John Noguez, who had taken paid leave from his job two years previously after being charged with accepting bribes for lowering property owners' assessments. The choice of Noguez's replacement, however, was not an easy one, given that no candidate offered the ideal combination of management experience, real-estate expertise and integrity.
They ultimately chose Jeffrey Prang, whom Noguez had brought in as an assistant a few months before his arrest. Although Prang was not an appraiser by training and had not worked in real estate, he had many years of experience in local government — plus the backing of much of the county's Democratic Party establishment.
Now Prang is running for reelection, and, as is usually the case in these races, he's being opposed by a number of his subordinates who believe they can do the job better than he has. The three challengers — John Loew, Krish Kumar and Sandy Sun — all exude competence in their fields, and they have a number of good ideas for how the office ought to operate. But none of them has Prang's experience as manager. And while he may lack their real-estate acumen, he has run the department effectively and deserves another term.
The assessor's office's main job is to determine the value of newly built, improved or purchased properties and business assets. The office also decides on requests to reduce property valuations and hears appeals of the decisions made by its appraisers. Although the office doesn't set tax rates, its decisions help determine how much county residents pay in property taxes each year.
The first job of Noguez's replacement was to dispel the taint of corruption in the office, and Prang has done that. Under his watch, the office has also upgraded its outdated computer system, put its millions of paper records onto the internet where the public and county appraisers can access them, and improved public outreach. These are important steps forward in efficiency and public service.
His challengers' main complaint is that Prang and his chief deputy, Santos H. Kreimann, have never been appraisers, and so don't make the best use of the staff. We don't believe that's the right metric. Prang shares some of his challengers' ideas for streamlining and efficiencies, and he would be wise to adopt more of them. But voters would be wise to give him another term.