Monday, 27 June 2022

Steele: Hannah Faith Lee for assessor-recorder — a star performer

It’s always a good sign when young people get involved in important government operations.

From the moment I met 34-year-old Hannah Faith Lee, I knew she was something special.

Speaking from personal experience, running for office is not for the faint of heart. And when you decide to run against an eight-year incumbent, you’d better be sure you know what you’re getting into.

In short, it takes extraordinary commitment, intelligence and hard work to change years of problems. Hannah’s got all that and more. She’s smart with a heart, cares about people and she’s a star performer.

Hannah is running for assessor-recorder because she’s convinced there’s something wrong with what’s going on in that office and it’s having a negative effect on older people on fixed and low incomes and on businesses.

In a recent forum, Hannah explained some of the issues she’s uncovered.

One involved an unexpected increased tax bill to about 1,000 Lake County residents, many of whom are on fixed and low incomes. The bill was due two weeks from receipt. There was no prior notice, no time to prepare, seek assistance — just a tax bill the current assessor-recorder said property owners should have known about. Apparently, they signed something several years ago and should have remembered.

“Do any of us remember what we signed 12 years ago?” Hannah asked.

She also described a business owner who decided not to install a small inventory shed in his business because the shed that cost a few hundred dollars would result in a several thousand-dollar property assessment that would dramatically increase his taxes. Instead of growing his business he’s decided not to pursue expansion in Lake County.

Hannah pointed out that Lake County should not be running businesses out — but finding ways to work with businesses to help our struggling economy.

She went on to cite a long list of problems she’d uncovered before deciding whether to run. From long waits to file and access legal documents delaying homeowners from moving into their newly purchased homes, to questionable property assessments that are driving businesses out of the county and stifling growth, to backlogs that are resulting in lost revenue to the county’s general fund.

Hannah makes a very convincing case: The office, after eight years under the leadership of Richard Ford, is in trouble. The problems he says he inherited persist even after two terms (eight years) as assessor-recorder.

Mr. Ford essentially said he was not responsible for the mess he inherited but that he’d made progress and just needed another term (making it 12 years) to finish a 10-year fix he laid out.

He used percentages to explain the status of backlogs — not real numbers — an old political trick designed to make something look better than it really is. Hannah’s too smart to fall for that – saying — “75% of what?”

Her estimate of backlogs, based on conversations with county officials and others familiar with the problem, was more like years of backlogs in property assessments.

Ford said, repeatedly, that the jobs in the Assessor-Recorder’s Office were too technical to explain and the tests he had to take to be certificated for the jobs he had to learn were too hard for the average person to pass (words to this effect).

Hannah’s reply was to point out that he didn’t have the certificates when he was elected in 2014 and that school came ”really easy” for her.

But the kicker was when Hannah said that the people served by the office were, “for lack of a better term — his boss.” She pointed out that if you can’t explain to your boss the job at hand, you’re not a good communicator. At one of the forums a woman turned to Hannah and said, “Thank you for your presentation, your answers were so clear.”

Hannah summed up her presentations at the two forums I attended emphasizing the many people she had talked with to better understand their issues — local elected officials, current and former employees, business owners, homeowners and groups like the town halls and business associations and everyday people struggling to understand why they are having to make decisions between paying utility bills and paying their taxes.

Isn’t that refreshing? A candidate who gets who the boss is — us, the taxpayers, everyday people who deserve excellent customer service, and a clear explanation of how the laws work when it comes to things like property assessments, tax bills, and basic things, like why they can’t get a simple copy of a death certificate or marriage license in a day.

Since the forums Hannah uncovered another issue. Years after the Valley, Clayton and Dam fires, survivors are still paying full property taxes on their destroyed properties. That’s just unacceptable.

Hannah is a problem solver — she owns her own business and works for the county as a deputy public guardian managing the affairs of 80-plus conservatees, including budgets ranging from $1,000 to a little over than $1 million each. She’s also making life and death decisions for them and accountable to the courts.

She’s well educated, with degrees in business management and psychology; business administration and tax preparation; and certificates in tax preparation, basic and advanced accounting.

From her first job with the county, Hannah also has experience analyzing problems for managers and coming up with solutions to improve efficiencies.

Hannah Faith Lee offers a fresh approach. She’s a star performer with the intellectual capacity, experience and knowledge to bring the office of assessor-recorder into the 21st century. She’s got the makings of what is called in some circles, a servant leader, someone who pays particular attention to the well-being of the people and the communities they live in.

Smart with a heart — and she says she’s tired of Lake County being last. “We need to modernize the office, implement basic electronic systems that save time and provide information on the same day requested, we must be accountable and we must communicate to our boss,” Hannah said.

I agree with Hannah when she says we shouldn’t be lagging most other counties who are years ahead of Lake County in addressing the same type of problems acknowledged by the current assessor-recorder. Surely eight years of trying is long enough.

We have a choice to make by June 7, the last day to vote. I’m voting for Hannah with every confidence she’ll get the job done in a respectful, unassuming, effective and caring manner.

Olga Martin Steele lives in Clearlake Oaks, California.

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