Real Estate News

Realtor says she's challenging assessor to fix troubled department

Kate Van Buren is a Sacramento realtor running for the County Assessor.
Kate Van Buren is a Sacramento realtor running for the County Assessor. Capitol Studio West

The Sacramento County Assessor’s race is pitting Christina Wynn, the incumbent who was appointed under a cloud of controversy, against Kate Van Buren, a real estate agent who has never worked in an assessor’s office.

The Sacramento County Assessor leads an office of 150 employees with an $18 million budget. The office's primary job is to estimate the value of residential and commercial property to assess property tax bills.

Wynn has been the assessor since May 2017. The then-assistant assessor was appointed by the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors to take over for Kathleen Kelleher, who resigned shortly after the county launched an investigation into whether top officials in the Assessor's Office benefited from lower tax bills than neighbors with similar properties, among other claims.

“I’m the only candidate with proven experience and the required qualifications to ensure property tax values are fair and accurate,” said Wynn, who said she has 24 years of experience as an assessor and more than 27 years of appraisal experience,. “My highest priority is to provide all taxpayers with accessible, responsive and respectful customer service, increase access to property tax information and ensure taxpayers are informed of their rights.”

Wynn said she also has certification from the State Board of Equalization and is a certified general appraiser.

Van Buren says she can fix the problems in the office with transparency, kindness, respect and ethics.

"I think it will take someone from outside the office who doesn’t owe anyone any special favors, who has a broader vision," she said. “I’m just coming in to help. I have no other agenda.”

In a Jan. 13 email, county personnel manager Cori Stillson summarized 50 allegations made by employees against Kelleher's office including impropriety, harassment, favoritism and management issues. Employees claim they were wrongly passed over for promotions and endured harassment as they pressed forward with complaints of "illegalities and corruption."

The investigation by the outside law firm of Ellis Buehler Makus is expected to be completed by the end of the month, according to Kim Nava, county spokeswoman.

"I am confident when the results are revealed that there will be no merit found to any of the allegations," Wynn told the Sacramento Bee editorial board recently. "... No assessments were ever changed inappropriately ever."

Kelleher requested a review by the Board of Equalization after questions arose about an appraisal of her property and that of other employees. The report is confidential, but Ladeena Ford of BOE confirmed a previously published statement by Kelleher that said no improprieties were found in the appraisals of the 38 properties.

Wynn was interviewed about the allegations by the Sacramento Grand Jury, which typically issues its reports in June.

Wynn said complaints are coming from five disgruntled employees. She added that problems at the office have resulted in personal and professional online attacks of employees and herself. Wynn said the staff will need professional assistance – at least career counseling – to move forward.

"I'm trying to redirect the atmosphere to make it more positive," she said.

One way that Wynn says she will do that is by reviewing and updating the department's mission statement and goals of the office with the help of employees.

Van Buren, a Realtor with 14 years of experience selling commercial and residential real estate, said she is running for assessor to protect property owners and Sacramento County from possible inefficiencies in the office.

“There may be some employee drama going on that makes it hard for some employees to focus on their jobs,” Van Buren said.

Wynn is endorsed by the Sacramento Association of Realtors, while Van Buren is endorsed by the United Public Employees union, which includes Assessor's Office employees.