Three people are seeking to become the party’s nominee for that office on the county general election ballot in August. They are Brian Malone, Jack L. Ryan and Donna K. Whitaker. No one is running for the office in the Democratic Party primary. The winner of the GOP primary will face independent candidate Jerry M. Sorrell in August.
The winner of the August election will serve the remaining two years of a four-year term Ron Hillman was elected to serve in 2014. Hillman died last year. Russell Baker, appointed to fill the job until this election cycle, is not seeking election.
The job currently pays $94,719 per year. That’s set to increase by the time the general election winner takes office on Sept. 1. On July 1, the state-mandated minimum salary for assessor of property for a county the size of Sullivan will increase to $99,133.
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Early voting for the primary begins April 11 at the Sullivan County Election Commission Office in Blountville and April 19 at the Kingsport Civic Auditorium and National Guard Armory in Bristol. Early voting ends at all three locations on April 26.
The Kingsport Times News asked Malone, Ryan and Whitaker to answer a series of questions with a common deadline and word limit. (Sorrell will be included in a similar Q&A prior to voters’ first chance to see his name on the ballot in the county general election in August). Their responses are unedited.
Q: What professional experience would you bring to the property assessor’s office, and what in your background makes you the best candidate in that regard?
Malone: “I am a veteran of the Marine Corps. I served the citizens of Sullivan County for over 10yrs as an Emergency Medical Rescue Technician and a lifetime member of Kpt Lifesaving Crew where i served as an officer and Board of Directors member. I have several years of management and leadership positions in retail sales. In those positions, I have overseen budgets, managed logistics, and led multiple levels of employees. I have created and maintained positive work environments for employees to sustain a stable and pleasant work environment. In most recent years I have gained invaluable property knowledge as a proven real estate agent. I currently serve on the Younglife Kingsport Committee and Leadership Kingsport 2018. My biggest assets that I will bring to the office are Leadership, Communication, and a dedicated desire to serve. I will take pride in being able to communicate effectively with property owners to assure them they have the fairest assessment possible. Home Owners, Farmers, and Business owners all value their property as their most precious asset and they deserve for it to be treated as such. I will maintain an open door policy and commit to being out with the taxpayers to address any concern.”
Ryan: “I have 44 years of professional experience in Property Assessment and Real Estate. I am the Current Deputy Assessor of Commercial Property for Sullivan County and have proudly held this position for the last 26 years. I worked for 8 years on the Bristol, TN/VA Joint Planning Commission, 8 years with Bob Saacke/Coldwell Banker Security Real Estate as a commercial agent, and 2 years with the Bristol, VA City Engineers Office on a surveying crew. Appraisals I have conducted include The Pinnacle, Kingsport Pavilion, and the Eastman corporate offices. I am a graduate of Virginia Highlands Community College with a degree in Architectural, Civil and Structural Steel Drafting. I completed 2 years of courses at East Tennessee State University in Real Estate Principles, Laws, Finance, Brokerage, Management, Appraisal, and Appraisal Problems. I have completed 53 University of Tennessee Public Service classes (383 hrs) from 1998-Present. My education, experience and diversified work history that directly relates to the job requirements for the Assessor’s office make me the best and most qualified candidate for the Assessor of Property position. I am looking forward to continuing to serve the citizens of Sullivan County with Integrity, Reliability and Professionalism.”
Whitaker: “During my sixteen years as a Deputized Assessor in the Property Assessor’s office I have served in various roles that have broadened my skills and expertise. Presently, I serve as the Chief Mapper and GIS Analyst Manager. This role, combined with my prior experience, has allowed me to become proficient in the daily use of deeds and surveys to edit maps. In addition, I am trained and competent in the Computer Assisted Mass Appraisal software that is presently used for updating property records. With my years of experience, I have gained the knowledge to help answer questions of property owners as well as office personnel, no matter how specific they may be. Each day brings property owners into the office with various questions, and my experience will ensure their questions are answered accurately and in a timely manner. I am blessed to be a public servant and I strongly feel that experience and approachability is vital for this position. There are approximately 90,000 parcels in the county and knowing what is expected to keep them up to date and accurate is key in being a successful Assessor of Property.”
Q: What are the top issues for the property assessor’s office in the coming four years and what will you do to address each?
Malone: “The Property Assessors office has been through a lot this year with the loss of Mr. Hillman and the issues that came with replacing him. They now have an employee leading the office that was chosen by the commission when no suitable candidates emerged prior to the election. This was a factor in what led to my decision to run for this position. The taxpayers deserve someone that has a reputation as a professional leader and a true community servant. The office needs a fresh set of eyes that can look into the depths of the daily business that makes the office work. The office has a hard-working workforce that is flooded with experience, but we as a county need a leader who can come in and recognize leadership capabilities within its ranks. a view from the outside looking in, a few from the eyes of the taxpayer, and a fresh perspective from today’s working world will serve the office of the assessor greatly. The employees deserve the support of a new non-biased, positive leader to set a tone and enable them to surpass the expectations of the taxpayer for outstanding customer service.”
Ryan: “The newly elected property assessor must ensure that business and residential property values are calculated correctly. If elected Assessor of Property I am certain that I have the knowledge, experience and skills to meet this goal. All Property Assessor personnel should participate in the University of Tennessee’s Institute for Public Service classes. These continuing education classes allow office personnel to stay updated on current issues, policies and procedures and be better prepared to assist taxpayers when they have questions about their property. I would recommend to the county commissioners that as many personnel as possible be allowed to attend public service classes conducted by the University of Tennessee.”
Whitaker: “With two years left in the unexpired term I would like to lead change on two issues. First, I plan to address the accountability of time management in each division of the Property Assessor’s Office. Each division will be held accountable for how they use their time at work to maximize productivity. My plan of action is to work with the employees to create goals for each division and assist in the development of a plan to reach those goals. Open lines of communication are important between the Assessor of Property and the divisions, so I will implement quarterly meetings to communicate progress, while maintaining an open-door policy for guidance. I will also lead by example by creating goals for myself to ensure that productivity is on track. Next, I plan to increase training for all employees of the Property Assessor’s Office. I want employees to have opportunities available to them to increase their knowledge of office systems and procedures. I feel it is important to cross train within the divisions to ensure optimum performance and courteous customer service. My plan of action is to create an environment where, at a minimum, two people are trained in each specific area.”