Last month, I wrote a commentary saying that Monongalia County Assessor Rodney Pyles should resign because of incompetence. All three Monongalia County Commissioners and the Morgantown Dominion Post newspaper have said the same. Lord knows how many furious and confused Monongalia County taxpayers have added to the chorus.
For years, Pyles has botched the fundamental job of the assessor–that is to regularly appraise all the property in the county so the owners can be taxed accurately. The state tax department gave Pyles failing grades for years and ultimately ordered Pyles to catch up.
He hired Tyler Technologies to do the job. The company found properties that had not been appraised for, in some cases, 10, 20 and even 30 years. Pyles has been the assessor since the late 1980’s and is the longest serving assessor in the county’s history. Before Pyles, his brother, John, held the position.
Tyler Technologies had to send letters to 30,000 Monongalia County property owners telling them of, in many cases, significantly higher property values, which would mean dramatically higher taxes.
As of Thursday, more than 2,500 taxpayers have asked for hearings before the County Commission, when it sits as the Board of Equalization and Review. Usually that number is around 200. The board will never be finished with all those hearings by the February 29th deadline.
“The whole thing has been a mess,” one county official told me privately.
Earlier this week, Monongalia County Commission President Bill Bartolo made a motion to formally call for Pyles’ resignation. It died for lack of a second, not because the other two commissioners believe Pyles should stay, but rather they don’t believe it will do any good.
Reportedly, Pyles was contemplating stepping down earlier in this controversy, but has now dug in his heels.
Pyles’ defense is that he says he’s taken the steps necessary to fix the appraisals, so he’s doing his job. But that doesn’t account for years of incompetence or other problems in the assessor’s office. Monongalia County Commissioners say Pyles’ office has fallen several years behind in the assessor’s map room, so it’s not as though the assessor’s office is now a model of efficiency.
One downside of the pressure on Pyles to resign is that it has given him an opportunity to play the victim. Take his recent announcement that he would not seek re-election this year.
“American politics has sunk to a new low. Ads are nasty and brutal and I am sure that I would be battered and bashed like I never have before,” Pyles whined in a self-serving news release. “I do not want to subject myself and my family to this process.”
Pyles is right that he would take considerable heat if he ran for re-election, but that’s what happens when you don’t do your job. Pyles could have prevented his own personal pain and, more importantly, spared thousands of Monongalia County taxpayers anguish, if he demonstrated some level of competence over the years.
So what now for Pyles? Will he finish out his term while others try to clean up the mess he created? Or will he do the honorable thing and step down?
As Commission President Bartolo said, “He has a legal right to stay in his position, but he should do the moral thing here and accept responsibility for all the problems he’s caused.”
That would be a good start.