Three candidates, none with appraisal experience, vie for vacant assessor position

Commissioner deliberation scheduled for Thursday, appointment Monday

By Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey
Reader Staff

On May 9, Bonner County Assessor Grant Dorman — who took office in January — issued his resignation effective Friday, June 2 due to health concerns. On May 23, the Bonner County Republican Central Committee submitted its nominations to the county for three candidates to take over the position, per Idaho Code, seeing as Dorman ran in 2022 as a Republican. On May 30, the board of Bonner County commissioners interviewed those three candidates, and it didn’t take long for the elephant in the room to make itself known: Of the three BCRCC nominees, none has experience in the world of property appraisal.

Thomas Brown, Dennis Engelhardt and Dan Rose were selected from a pool of eight applicants who interviewed with the BCRCC, including county assessor’s office employees Cory Gabel, Ben Hawkins and Al Ribeiro; 2022 assessor candidate and current Deputy County Clerk Jessi Reinbold; and Harold Carter, of Carter Appraisals. According to BCRCC Chairman Scott Herndon, who also serves as District 1 Idaho senator, all but Brown were interviewed May 16 and, after further advertising, all eight candidates were considered and nominations made May 23.

Thomas Brown, one of three finalists chosen for the vacant Bonner County assessor position by the Bonner County Republican Central Commmittee. Photo by Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey.

The May 30 interviews, which were open to the public, began with each of the BCRCC’s chosen candidates introducing themselves. All three men share a background in law enforcement, military or both. 

Brown and Rose became Bonner County residents in 2014, while Engelhardt said he moved to the area about 20 years ago and ran for assessor in 2018. Brown and Engelhardt boasted experience in managerial positions overseeing large teams of employees, while Rose highlighted his status as an elected official with both the BCRCC and Pend Oreille Hospital District, as well as his “experience with people in the [county] building” — both as a frequent, controversial speaker at commissioner meetings and as someone who previously challenged his own property assessment. 

The trio fielded questions from the commissioners, Dorman and several employees from the assessor’s office, responding with various commitments to throw themselves into the “learning curve” of becoming assessor during one of the office’s busiest seasons. All three pledged to emphasize teamwork and lean on the expertise of the department’s staff.

Commissioner Asia Williams was the first to point out that none of the three nominated candidates had experience with assessing or appraising property, and urged them to be more specific in their pitches as to how they would adequately fill the role.

Commissioner Williams’ comment about the overall lack of experience proved a sticking point for members of the real estate and title community present in the audience.

“How did these three individuals come to be put forward and chosen for this portion of [the interview process]?” asked Lonnie Williams of TitleOne.

Realtor Mark Linscott also questioned whether the BCRCC had put forth its most qualified applicants.

Dennis Engelhardt, one of three finalists chosen for the vacant Bonner County assessor position by the Bonner County Republican Central Commmittee. Photo by Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey.

“All due respect to the candidates — I thank you guys for your service, and we’re more than prepared if Canada invades if you guys are assessor,” Linscott said, noting the importance of filling the position with someone who can understand and interpret data pertinent to the job.

Gabel, who currently serves as the chief deputy assessor and did not receive a nomination from the BCRCC following his application, pointed out that all three candidates had praised Dorman’s work as assessor and asked them to provide specific examples of that work. Neither Brown nor Engelhardt were able to give examples, while Rose referenced some technology improvements implemented under Dorman.

Reinbold shared her frustrations about the BCRCC’s interview and nomination process with the Reader.

“It is clear that the BCRCC went through the process just so they could say they did,” she said. “It was quite obviously set and decided behind the scenes. They had no regard for qualifications, no regard for Bonner County, no regard for the employees in that office who have gone through hell with this elected official business …

“It is extremely disheartening to see that the BCRCC chose partisanship over what is best for the county,” she later added. “It was extremely frustrating to listen to the interviews, where they clearly had no real knowledge of the job. I am empathetic to the staff in the assessor’s office having to go through this.”

Asked about the lack of technical, assessor-related qualifications on the part of the three BCRCC candidates, Herndon told the Reader in a May 31 email: “Grant Dorman did not have any appraisal experience before he was elected to the position of Bonner County Assessor. The BCRCC endorsed his candidacy, and by all reports he has been doing an excellent job in the office. The position is designated in the Idaho Constitution and in Idaho Code. Besides being at least 21 years of age and a resident of the county for at least the 12 months preceding election, there are no other specific qualifications for the position in law. The duties of assessor are enumerated in Title 63 of Idaho Code.”

Herndon said that 22 precinct committeemen voted on the nominations, and their discussions pertained mostly to the “leadership ability of the candidates and whether they would be good managers of the people who do have the skills and do the daily duties of the office.”

Ultimately, Herndon said the BCRCC believes that the technical knowledge of the office can be learned over time “by the right person.”

“Grant Dorman had more than seven months after his primary victory in May of 2022 to get ready for the position, and with his resignation there is less time for a replacement to prepare,” Herndon said, “but the focus still needed to be on the essential aspects of this elected officer that are less technical in nature and thus harder for just anyone to acquire.”

Dan Rose, one of three finalists chosen for the vacant Bonner County assessor position by the Bonner County Republican Central Commmittee. Photo by Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey.

Bonner County commissioners are scheduled to deliberate and select a new assessor from the field of Brown, Engelhardt or Rose during a special meeting Thursday, June 1 at 3 p.m. at the Bonner County Administration Building (1500 U.S. Hwy. 2, in Sandpoint). The chosen candidate would then be sworn into office on Monday, June 5 at 9 a.m.

If the BOCC fails to select an assessor within 15 days after Dorman’s resignation, the BCRCC will get to make the selection itself.

Whoever is appointed will then need to run for office in both 2024 and 2026 in order to put the assessor position back onto its regular election cycle.

Watch the assessor candidate interviews in full by finding Bonner County on YouTube.

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