The anybody-but-Washam contest ended in August. Now it’s the who-are-you race.
Billie O’Brien and Mike Lonergan, candidates for Pierce County assessor-treasurer, settled on their answers a while back, after topping controversial incumbent Dale Washam in a five-way primary.
O’Brien, 63, touts technical know-how gained from 21 years working at the assessor’s office. She has worked in the trenches and supervised others on both the appraisal and tax-collection sides, and risen to the position of administrative manager – third in command at the agency.
Lonergan, 63, cites his 12 years of executive experience as leader of the Tacoma Rescue Mission, where he managed 65 employees and a $4 million budget. He also points to his two terms as a Tacoma city councilman, where he coped with budgets and the rough-and-tumble of city politics.
Both candidates say they know what needs doing. During the primary, both promised to ease the tension at an office poisoned by years of internal investigations and workplace strife. Lonergan’s slogan – “Let’s fix this” – alluded to the issue. O’Brien spoke of restoring professional behavior at the office from the top down.
The job is straightforward and technical: Assess all properties in the county and collect the associated taxes. Two divisions within the assessor’s office – appraisal and administration – cover the two tasks. The agency employs 76 people and runs on a $9.6 million budget. The assessor-treasurer’s salary: $126,620 this year.
The assessor doesn’t set property tax rates – that’s the job of the County Council and other local government bodies. Both candidates find themselves explaining that point over and over on the campaign trail. Both talk of providing clearer information for taxpayers on the agency’s county website.
The campaign has been low-key so far, marked by ripples of polite disagreement. Lonergan nods to O’Brien’s experience in the office. He says he values it, but he thinks his background as a leader of large organizations adds a layer of needed effectiveness.
“The technical expertise that my opponent has is valuable – as is that of many of the other certified professionals in the office,” he said. “It does not translate to leadership, necessarily. The good news for the voters is this – they can elect a proven leader as the county assessor and my opponent can continue in her position as one of the administrators in the office.”
O’Brien counters that her experience is more varied than Lonergan suggests and more specific than he realizes.
“My management experience is with more people than he says he’s managed. I’ve had up to 90 people when acting as chief deputy,” she said. “And all of my management experience is actually in that environment – in the office with the staff and with the processes that are carried on there on a regular basis. I also have the technical knowledge to be able to put that experience into action.”
Formally, the office is nonpartisan. Informally, backing for the two candidates falls along local party lines. Lonergan has picked up endorsements from a cross-section of Republicans, including county councilmembers Joyce McDonald, Dick Muri, Roger Bush and Dan Roach.
O’Brien has gathered endorsements from Democratic organizations in the 25th and 27th legislative districts, retiring state Auditor Brian Sonntag and local unions.
The money race looks lopsided, but the totals are deceptive. Lonergan has raised about $39,000 overall, but much of that came before the Aug. 7 primary, and the total reflects $32,500 of his own money, according to the latest state campaign-finance records. He’s raised roughly $4,200 since the primary, and he has about $4,500 in cash on hand.
O’Brien has raised far less: $15,343 overall, records say. She’s received about $3,500 in contributions since the primary. Records say she has roughly $4,400 on hand, nearly matching Lonergan’s available funds.