St. Tammany Squabble: Core vs. Fitzmorris

Posted by root | 10 Apr, 2012

Last November longtime St. Tammany Assessor Patricia Core narrowly lost her bid for re-election to Abita Springs Mayor Louis Fitzmorris. Rather than having a smooth transition from one administration to another, the media is reporting the transition isn’t going very well with each side blaming the other for a lack of cooperation.

The real problem between Core and Fitzmorris is the extended lame duck period. The general election was held on November 19, 2011, and the date upon which the newly elected Assessor takes office is January 1, 2013.

Why such a long time? You may recall that prior to the early 1970’s Louisiana elections were held under a closed primary system. Separate Democrat and Republican Party elections with run-offs were held followed by a General Election where those winners, a Democrat and a Republican, along with Independent candidates faced off against each other. The candidate with the most votes was elected.

If this were still the case, the party primary election and runoff for Assessor in St. Tammany Parish would have been held in 2011 with the general election being held sometime in 2012. In those days computers were in their infancy. Assessors created their annual tax rolls not with computers but with calculators and large carriage typewriters. And this would be at the same time that the general election was being held. To change assessors in the middle of the preparation of the tax roll when tax rolls were created by hand was considered inefficient and too disruptive. So the new assessor’s term was set to begin January 1, of the year following the general election and before work had begun on that year’s tax roll.

But now we have open primaries where all candidates run against each other regardless of party status and the election is concluded in the same year it began. Louis Fitzmorris was elected Assessor in an open primary runoff on November 19, 2011, but he will not take office until January 1, 2013, thanks to an election cycle used today under laws that no longer exist.

Thanks to computers assessors can more easily prepare their assessment rolls and calculate property values. Little if anything is done by hand. Assessors now keep track of vital information such as property records, homestead exemptions, use value applications, and senior citizen assessment freezes on computer. A new assessor can come in quickly after the election, and begin doing the job he was elected to do. The dark ages have ended making the extended lame duck period no longer justifiable. Times have changed and so should the timing in which the winning candidate for assessor takes office.

Now I will admit that during my time as the Assessor of Jefferson Parish the lame duck period applied to my office as well. It applied to all assessors except in New Orleans. But in years past assessors were rarely defeated for re-election so the long lame duck period as a practical matter was not a real problem. This didn’t make it right, but it was very seldom a problem. Personally, I would recommend to any incumbent assessor who lost a re-election bid to resign from office shortly thereafter. Why stick around with such a long lame duck period? If voters want a change there is no good reason for the loser to hang around for an additional thirteen months or longer. Let the new guy take over.

The problem of the extended lame duck period can be solved. The election law for assessors can be changed in one of two ways. The state legislature can pass a constitutional amendment to be approved by voters creating a onetime, three year term for assessors so that the assessor is still elected at the same time as the statewide candidates with the assessor’s new term beginning on January 1st following the election.

A simpler way to shorten the lame duck period without a constitutional amendment would be to change the date that the assessors are elected from the year in which statewide officials are elected to the following year when Congressional elections are held.

In either case the lame duck period would be almost non-existent. Winners and losers might engage in a post election squabble, but the squabble would be over before it got started. And, since the winner would be sworn into office rather quickly after the election, the winning candidate could begin almost immediately doing the job he or she was elected to do. It is after all up to the voters to decide who will serve in public office, and this change will make it happen sooner rather than later. Voters should not have to wait over a year for the person they elected to begin serving.