Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Night 28° Partly Cloudy
News >  Spokane

County assessor’s race has 6 candidates

Spokane County Assessor Ralph Baker has more challengers than a bear has fleas – and he picked up one of them, appraiser Vicki Horton, in his own den.

The den used to belong to another of Baker’s five opponents, former Assessor Sadie Charlene Cooney.

Other challengers are Lori Wick, a county grant specialist and former deputy auditor; real estate broker Gina McKenzie; and software engineer Andrew Jackson.

Generally, the challengers fault Baker for allegedly failing to add some new construction to the tax rolls, alienating staff members and reducing public access to the office.

Baker responds that he has greatly reduced a stack of inherited problems, including untaxed construction. He says he has improved public access with a website that gives details on every property in the county.

A 2008 tax appraisal performance study by the state House of Representatives’ Office of Program Research lists Spokane County as one of 12 top-performing counties.

Even Baker’s challengers give his website high marks. But his belt-sander approach to problems has generated controversy since he took office in January 2005.

Baker was criticized for removing visitor chairs from what he said was supposed to have been a private work area, for installing an unpopular telephone answering system, for tightening enforcement of restrictions on timber and agriculture tax exemptions and, this year, for a six-year, $560,000 contract for aerial photography that allows appraisers to locate and measure new buildings.

A disputed whistleblower complaint by a former appraiser contended a large number of new buildings weren’t promptly assessed.

Several of Baker’s challengers, including Horton and Cooney, fault the way Baker manages his staff.

Cooney also is no stranger to criticism.

In 1998, the state auditor issued a scathing analysis of her performance. And in 2002, a judge fined her $3,000 for a second campaign-law violation: using county equipment and employees in a re-election campaign.

The county paid more than $180,000 to fight and settle a legal claim that Cooney retaliated against employees who didn’t support her 1998 campaign.

“I just hope people have forgiven me so we can move on,” Cooney said.

Former state Rep. Duane Sommers defeated Cooney in 2002. He resigned after two years, and Baker was appointed to replace him.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter

Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.