An apparent dispute between state and Montgomery County officials over who to appoint as county supervisor of the State Department of Assessment and Taxation ended recently with the selection of Robert Rudnick, a 12-year veteran of the department. The department, an real property assessments in Montgomery County.
While most officials connected with the appointment either declined comment or dismissed talk of differences between the county and the state, Montgomery County Council member Neal Potter said county officials were seeking "a more energetic approach from someone not tied to "the old course of things" in the assessor's office.
Rudnick, 35, is a Glenmont resident who has lived in Montgomery County since 1957. He has a B.A. in urban geography from the University of Maryland, and his experience in the assessor's office includes seven years as an appraiser and five years as a field supervisor.
Charles Maier, special assistant to County Executive James Gleason, said that although "it seemed . . . the state had someone particularly in mind that they wanted to select," the county insisted that the supervisor be one of six persons if nominated.
Both county and state officials say they are satisfied with the choice of Rudnick. But the six-month delay between the retirement of former supervisor Bernard Frenzel and Rudnick's appointment, and the dispute over whether another person should have been nominated, underscores the importance both sides attached to the selection.
Under state law, the county assessment supervisor is selected by William Shoemaker, director of the State Department of Assessments and Taxation, from a list of five persons nominated by the county executive and affirmed by the county council.
Upon Frenzel's retirement, County Executive James Gleason appointed a special committee of council member Norman Christeller, Public Tax Advocate Frank Ecker, Assistant County Attorney Christopher Malone and Property Assessment Appeal Board member Roderick Riley to screen the applicants.
According to Malone, the committee looked for people" who would recognize the problems in the office." Potter said council members wanted a new supervisor who would "draw a strict line rather than a lax line as in the past" on farmland assessments and who would "harden up on non-residential assessments."
The committee gave Gleason five names, including Rudnick, another employee of the Montgomery assessor's office, an assessor from the District and two retired federal civil servants. It did not name McGordon Ferguson, the assistant supervisor and a long-time veteran of the assessor's office, who also applied for the post.
Gleason and the council accepted the committee's selections and sent them on to Shoemaker. But Shoemaker selected none of the five. He said Rudnick and another man withdrew their names, the others found the salary unacceptable, and one nominee was not qualified.
Maier said, "The state just didn't like those people (the five nominees) because they had their own person in mind." Shoemaker said later he felt Ferguson should have been nominated as a courtesy.
Finally, after Gleason renominated three men from the first list and added a new name - a Shoemaker refused to accept the new list as proper - the deadlock was broken when Rudnick changed his mind and agreed to accept the post.
Rudnick said he "will take a look at our entire operation" in the office and will make any changes he can to insure that all property is assessed at its proper level. He also said he would watch for ways state assessment laws or procedures can be changed and will suggest changes to his superiors in the state office.
Ecker said the six-month dealy in selection of a new supervisor and Shoemaker's initial rejection of the committee's list did not indicate any policy differences between the state and the county. He said the only difference might have been that his committee "may have put a greater shading on management" rather than technical ability.
Malone also said the committee focused on the new supervisor's attention to management of the office and his perception of things in the office that needed to be changed. He characterized the selection of Rudnick, who is young but experienced in the office,as "a happy ending" to the prolonged appointment process.
Shoemaker also said he had no differences with county officials, except that he fell Ferguson should have been nominated. But he was critical of the length of time the appointment took, which was partly due to the deliberations of the county screening committee.
"The real losers in the delay were the property owners in MontgomeryCounty," he said. "It's normal for property owners to think that as long as property assessments don't change they're being treated fairly. But it's just the other way around, so if there's any delay in the work in the office (because of the absence of a permanent supervisor), it will affect the final assessments at the end of this year.