OPINION: The Race For Assessor
Cynda Green | 10/6/10
I like Natalie Woodruff.  I haven’t met a person who doesn’t like Natalie Woodruff.

I like Fred Uehling.  I haven’t met a person who doesn’t like Fred Uehling.

 fred uehling for assessor
Running for Archuleta County Assessor: Fred Uehling.  Photo by Cynda Green.
Natalie Woodruff and Fred Uehling are Archuleta County’s two candidates for the very critical office of Assessor.  Woodruff is running on the Republican ticket; Uehling is running on the Democrat ticket.  But it doesn’t matter who is the Republican and who is the Democrat, because the office of Assessor is a non-legislative position, and therefore essentially non-partisan. 

What matters, is, who is the most qualified candidate to fulfill the duties of the office of Assessor?     

The most qualified person, Assessor Keren Prior, was voted out of contention in the primary.  I previously wrote about how upset I was with my 2008 valuation and the amount of time and anxiety it took to correct it, in the July Daily Post article “Assessing the Assessment”.  Apparently I wasn’t the only property owner who was upset, because Ms. Prior lost to Ms. Woodruff in the primary by a sizable margin.

Thus we have two candidates, neither of which is the incumbent.  I decided to get the perspective of another assessor, randomly chosen from another rural county, about what it takes to do the job.  The “other assessor”, who knows Keren Prior through the Colorado Assessor’s Association, was unaware that Prior lost her primary election.

“Is someone from the Assessor’s office running?” the other assessor asked.  I replied no, neither candidate has any experience as an appraiser or as an employee of the assessor. 

The other assessor then tore into Archuleta County and its voters.  “I wouldn’t want to live in your county.  You keep voting in inexperienced people — commissioners and now assessor.   Your county pays a price.  You lose a million dollars.  You can’t replace Keren’s experience.  It’ll take the new assessor four to five years to get up to speed.”

The other assessor went on to say that most new assessors come from within the department.  “It is a very technical job.  The assessor must be a leader and work harder than their employees to gain the respect of those employees.  It’s a thankless job.  You need a thick skin. 

”Why do they even want the job?” the other assessor wondered before ending our conversation.

I’ve established that assessor candidates Natalie Woodruff and Fred Uehling are nice people, and that political party doesn’t matter.  So what are their qualifications?

According to Woodruff’s website, she has been an Operations Coordinator for a vehicle durability testing company, worked in the County Clerk’s office for four years, Chief Title Officer for a local title company, and currently a Business Associate at the local Wells Fargo Bank.

Uehling, a CPA, has a few years on Woodruff, so, understandably has more years of experience.

According to his website, Uehling was a USAF Communications Specialist, Auditor for the Federal Government, Audit Manager, and Certified Government Financial Manager (CGFM) for various entities of the Federal and State Government for a total of 37 years.  Upon moving to Pagosa, Uehling was employed by H&R Block and now owns an independent CPA business.

Both websites indicate that both candidates have had supervisory experience.  But Uehling’s managerial experience is much more extensive than Woodruff’s.  Uehling has served as a training officer and taught continuing education to as many as 45 auditors.

Uehling graduated from University of Wisconsin with a degree in Business Administration and Accounting.  He has held his CPA credential for 33 years.

Woodruff, in her own words, graduated from The School of Hard Knocks.

Now, I have nothing against Woodruff for her lack of higher education, and, in fact, admire anyone who successfully negotiates the School of Hard Knocks.  But we are talking about an extremely technical, professional position where there is no room for careless error, or any errors for that matter.  The state’s Assessor manuals are laboriously technical, long and mundane.  It seems to me that one who has been successful in the boring world of accounting, with all of its tax code manuals, licenses, and continuing education requirements has a greater chance of succeeding as our next assessor than one who has negotiated the School of Hard Knocks. 

Simply stated, Uehling is better qualified for the job than Woodruff.

I urge you to go to each website.  My observation is that one has a lot of substance, and one does not.  But decide for yourself.

I have some other issues with Woodruff besides her qualifications.  Although I am currently registered unaffiliated, as a fiscal conservative I’ve spent most of my voting years as a registered Republican.   So when I found out that Natalie Woodruff was running for assessor, I contacted her in November 2009 and offered to share with her my substantial research from my successful property tax appeal.

Woodruff was enthusiastic about my offer, and we agreed to meet in March 2010.  Again, in March, I reached out and contacted her, and we briefly met at a SunDowner.  But Woodruff never attempted to meet with me after that, although she said she would.  I could only conclude that she really was not that interested in the information I had to offer.

After my July article, “Assessing the Assessor” that appeared in the Pagosa Post magazine and Pagosa Daily Post, my plan was to interview Woodruff, and hopefully Keren Prior, and to publish the interview prior to the August primary election.  I contacted Woodruff twice by phone.  She stated she would call me from home that evening to set up the interview.

I never heard from Woodruff.  I never wrote the interview article.

I next saw Natalie Woodruff at the League of Women Voters forum before the primary election.  Woodruff came over as soon as I entered the room and apologized for not getting back to me about the interview.  “I forgot all about it until I just now saw you”, she said.

I asked Woodruff if she had read my article “Assessing the Assessment”.  She had not, and wasn’t aware that I had written such an article.  I told her that was unfortunate, as it would have been helpful for the forum.  Woodruff could have used the help.

In contrast, a man unknown to me approached me at the forum break.  He said, “Cynda Green, I’m Fred Uehling.  I read your article and I can tell you really know what you’re talking about.  Great article!  Let’s have lunch!”

Now, flattery will get you everywhere, but that’s not the point.  The point is that Fred Uehling was already preparing for the job of Assessor and was eager to learn as much as he could from me.  It was quite a contrast to Woodruff’s apathy.  (Note:  Uehling has also taken the initiative to educate himself with courses offered by the International Association of Assessing Officers.  Woodruff is waiting until she is elected to begin state assessor training.)

Fred Uehling and I had lunch after the primary election.  He grilled me.  I was impressed.

A friend of mine told me that Woodruff had filed her July campaign finance paperwork late with the state and had incurred a penalty.  I looked it up myself to verify it.  But it wasn’t the day-late filing that particularly bothered me.  It was Woodruff’s request for waiver of the $50 penalty that caused me concern.  Her excuse, and I call it an excuse, for filing late was that she wrote the wrong date on her calendar a long time ago, and actually thought she was filing a day early.

Personally, I’ve heard the “I forgot” excuse for why Woodruff didn’t follow through with our interview.  She never followed through meeting with me.  The request for penalty waiver is just another excuse. 

This behavior is not suitable for a potential assessor. Like Woodruff’s website, there isn’t a lot of substance behind these actions, or lack of actions.

Natalie Woodruff and Fred Uehling are both nice people.  Their party affiliation for the non-partisan position of Archuleta County Assessor is a moot point.  But Uehling’s resume is far superior to Woodruff’s and I have yet to hear any excuses from Uehling.  That’s because he hasn’t done anything that requires an excuse.

For me, it’s a no brainer.  Fred Uehling must be our next Assessor.

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