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Union calls for Baker apology

The county courthouse employees’ union on Friday called on Spokane County Assessor Ralph Baker to publicly apologize to his workers for suggesting they were sabotaging his re-election bid by purposely neglecting to add property to the tax rolls, which left him vulnerable to political attacks.

“To have your boss publicly call into question your integrity without any foundation – that’s outrageous,” said Gordon Smith, the labor union’s staff representative. “The tone of the employees isn’t simply outrage or anger, it is demoralization.”

Baker, who restored public access to the county’s most used Web site Friday after shutting it down for three days when journalists used it to confirm that several homes had been left off the tax rolls, said he has nothing to be sorry about.

“At this point I don’t have any apologies to do,” Baker said. “Why should I apologize for trying to improve the quality of work that we do? There’s no apology necessary.”

Baker has said part of the reason he blocked access to property information from his Web site was because his employees may have purposely omitted work to make him look bad in the days leading up to the November election. Baker, a Republican, is being challenged by Democrat Judy Personett, who has been endorsed by the county labor union.

Baker said Thursday that when a television reporter came to him with a list of 12 properties in the same area that weren’t on the tax roll, he was concerned a staff member may have purposely left property off the tax rolls.

“My concern was that union people had created this situation,” Baker said Thursday. “There’s kind of an element of worry on my part that these parcels were purposely not put on the roll.”

Personett said Baker’s accusation about employees appears paranoid.

“I just can’t imagine him saying that about his employees and then expecting them to work for him,” Personett said.

Meanwhile, Baker allowed the county’s property information Web page to become fully operational on Friday for the first time since Tuesday.

Since the site went online a couple years ago, it has become the county’s most visited Web page. It’s often used by real estate, insurance and other professionals, many of whom expressed concern about the information being pulled without notice.

Baker said another reason for pulling the site was because people were making important decisions that could have been based on bad data.

While the Web site was down, Baker said checks were performed to see if there was a widespread problem of property going untaxed. Much of that effort was completed by Friday.

“As I look at the database, it doesn’t appear like I’ve got big data holes where property isn’t properly on the tax roll in the established neighborhoods,” Baker said.

“At this point, it doesn’t look like I have any good reason to say, ‘OK this data is badly corrupted, let’s hold the Web page down.’ If I did, I would.”

Although the check could have been done without taking the information off the Web, he said earlier this week that he didn’t want to create more controversy in a “political environment” by leaving it accessible.

Since the information was pulled, workers have compared the county’s database to an Avista list of addresses that get power bills. Baker said the check found about 8,000 properties that might have structures on them that aren’t being taxed. He added that the number likely will fall once employees further research the parcels.

“My job, if you’ll remember, is to properly appraise and assess all the property in this county,” Baker said at the press conference. “It is not to create Web pages.”

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