- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 31, 2001

Vacancies on the D.C. Board of Real Property Assessments and Appeals will delay decisions on residents' appeals of their property values, some city officials said.
The 18-member board has nine vacancies, including the chairmanship, and expects to see soon an increase in its workload as the city shifts its assessments from once every three years to every year, board members said. Officials said the board has too few members to be an effective mediator in disputes between property owners and tax assessors.
"Because of triennial assessments, the burden has not been as great as when they were annual," said board member Cliftine Jones. "That's going to change."
Board members are appointed by the mayor for staggered terms of three to five years. Recently, eight names were suggested for appointments, of which three were seriously considered. But those names were withdrawn at the last minute, city officials said.
"We felt those three candidates would serve us elsewhere," said Jackie Randolph, deputy director of the D.C. Office of Boards and Commissions, which helps appoint boards.
City sources close to the board said the names of qualified candidates are being withdrawn because city officials want to influence the independent board.
"It's frustrating that this administration is not filling key positions," said one city official privately. "My concern is that they are not looking for good people but for those that won't preserve the independence and integrity of the board. Someone is struggling to control a board that is not supposed to be controllable."
The official said appointments should have been made before the D.C. Council's July 15 recess.
Ms. Randolph said there is a lengthy and necessary vetting process. "We have to make sure our candidates have specific knowledge required to serve on the board," she said. "And we have to make sure there is no conflict of interest. Washington is a small, incestuous town. We will use August to come up with additional [candidates]."
September is tax season in the District, and some residents already have appealed their city-assessed property values.
Some residents and city officials expressed hope that the board will consist of more members who have a wider background than just residential experience.
"There are some delays, but more important are the quality of their decisions," said lawyer Tanja Castro, a partner at Holland & Knight, who represents commercial tax cases decided by the board. "The people who sit on the board are more familiar with residential than commercial issues."
Ms. Castro said she has recommended two candidates to the board after being requested to do so by the Office of Boards and Commissions.
The board has great influence over the city's 158,000 residential and commercial taxpayers, as well as the District as a whole. Taxpayers have won rulings that amount to millions of dollars in the past few years.
Appeals start at the Office of Tax and Revenue. After a ruling, residents can appeal the decision to the board. Tax officials said appeals already have increased at the tax office, from 2,800 last year to 3,600 this year.
The board, meanwhile, expects to hear about 2,000 appeals this year and as many as 6,000 next year, board officials said. "We were overworked before, and we will be overworked again," one board member said.
But another took it in stride, saying he is confident the city will appoint more board members to help. "It's not all put into cement yet," said board member John Behrens.

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