From Roy Whiteley, Founder, Marylanders for Fair Property Taxation:
Senator Kasemeyer and Committee Members,
The hour and half drive from Annapolis to Forest Hill north of Bel Air gave us time to cool off and now hopefully express our utter disgust in a gentlemanly, civil manner about the untruthful testimony of the public servant SDAT employees who opposed SB 86 the right to record assessment hearings rather than try to help Maryland taxpayers as they are paid to do..
My apologies to you and the Committee for violating procedures by requesting the opportunity to address their outrageous testimony.
Both Mr. Biggs, the SDAT lobbyist, and Mr. Finkelsen, the Property Assessment Appeals Boards Administrator tried to distance themselves from the assessment offices and the PTAAB appeals process. While technically this is supposed to be the case in reality they are intertwined. In numerous cases both entities share the same offices and staff.
The issue that brings this bill back to your committee stems from last year’s actions. Your committee and the Senate passed this bill without dissent. The SDAT lobbyist convinced the House Committee bill passage would be unnecessary since SDAT would allow taxpayers to record their hearings. The bill died in committee. This year as we prepared for our yearly assessment appeals we had no resistance at the Assessor (first) level. However, when we notified the second level (PTAAB) appeals board of our appeal and intention to record we were given a response we read into your committee record. It essentially issued a suppressive and intimidating letter basically stating PTAAB was not legally required to allow us to record but would let us do so as long as it was not disruptive. We thought this was intimidating as did several of our Harford County legislators and a few of our several thousand e-mail recipients. Several taxpayers who informed us of their intention to record, changed their mind for fear of alienating the hearing officers. We feel certain that more than 10 as was testified actually request or have recorded their hearings. We will post this rebuttal to our email list asking anyone who has participated in or been denied recording rights to notify your committee to refute the less than 10 taxpayers SDAT says have requested to exercise this right.
Committee e-mail addresses are in this format followed by @senate.state.md.us
The SDAT lobbyist stated they have never denied taxpayers the right to record their hearing. He further stated the right is clearly spelled out in their “Frequently Asked Questions” portion of their website.That being the case why do they oppose having it in the law where it won’t ever be questioned? He further stated this information is contained in their procedures manual for all employees to abide by. We dispute his position that assessors have not denied taxpayers the right to record. Michael Jarrell, Kent County assessor once denied us the right to record about 2002. Time constraints in trying to send this information to you promptly prevents us from spending the time to research our archives to be more time specific. We entered his hearing room and before being seated were greeted with the pronouncement “That no matter what you say I AM RIGHT AND YOU ARE WRONG.” We were astonished and as we sat down at the table and put our recorder on the table we were told we could not record the proceedings. We reluctantly complied and did not record. We filed a formal complaint with the SDAT Director. We will produce any evidence if requested. Ever since that day when we now enter a hearing we have already turned on our recorder to document whatever transpires. That incident was witnessed by my brother, his wife, our niece, a joint owner of the property we were appealing, and my wife.
On March 20, 2008 we entered the hearing room of Harford County Supervisor of Assessments Donald Beynon who upon spotting the recorder placed on his desk literally screamed that we would not be allowed to record because “It is against the law” We argued for several minutes and launched into our hearing testimony while he continually protested. That tape is available for your perusal. Our appeal resulted in no adjustment. We appealed to the Harford County appeals board. When we placed our recorder on the table Board Chairman Stephen Lutche told us recordings are not allowed, have never been allowed and were against the law. We refuted his arguments and stated if we could not record then we requested the hearing to be postponed until such time the recording could be allowed. We continued to record and the Chairman ordered us to turn off the recorder or he would dismiss the hearing. He started to leave the office when we refused to turn off the recorder. He dismissed the hearing. Unbeknownst to us at the time this action precluded us from having any further hearing or appeal. Upon arrival at home we called, Mr. Finkelsen who had the dismissal changed so it allowed us to appeal our case to the Tax Court. On October 28, 2009 the Tax Court remanded the case to the PTAAB board allowing us to have an appeal hearing The Tax Court said they did not have the authority to order the PTAAB board to allow us to record. On December 12, 2009 we attended the rescheduled PTAAB hearing. Mr. Lutche had resigned. Oddly, I was among three nominees selected by County Executive David Craig to fill his spot or another vacancy on the board. O’Malley ignored all of the nominees and appointed his own selections. We appealed before the new board and when we attempted to record we were once again denied. We appealed to Mr. Finkelsen, who attends most of our hearings and was seated immediately behind us. At his urging we reluctantly decided not to attempt any further recording. Tapes of what we did record are available. The appeal resulted in a substantial reduction but not to the market value of the property. We appealed to Tax Court.
Both of these opponents testified that their procedures are fully documented in manuals setting forth the Department’s operational procedures. We would agree they probably are since every letter we have from our yearly appeals reflects a stilted form letter regime. It astonishes us that these men would hide behind the excuse that a clerk was responsible for issuing the intimidating order we read into the record. We all know this clerk did not compose that letter on her own. It came from the procedure manual just as these men said where it could be found. The apology letter Mr. Finkelsen testified was issued is prefaced with the words “Mr. Finkelsen contacted me this morning and reminded me that per PTAAB agreement effective last year, you may record your own hearing, on your own equipment and at your own expense”. We were also advised to contact Mr. Finkelsen at 443 280 2428 if we desired further clarification. Obviously, the poor clerk did not compose this letter on her own either. Such cowardice on the part of these men?!
We believe the facts show that both assessors and PTAAB boards have denied taxpayers the right to record their hearings. We have recorded proof of their efforts to stop us and will produce them to any interested party.
We urge you to again send SB 86 to the full Senate and urge you to help pass this bill thereby eliminating any further controversy regarding the right to record an assessment hearing.
Thank You. Roy Whiteley, Founder.