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This Hillsborough County Appraiser race is going to be interesting

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

There are certain local political offices in Hillsborough County where, absent a scandal, the incumbent is likely to win re-election.

Twenty years ago, Democratic Property Appraiser Ron Alderman was vulnerable after being the subject of a series of investigations. He lost that year to Republican Rob Turner.

Sixteen years later, Turner was seemingly cruising to another four-year term in office when he was rocked by a scandal involving pornography emails he issued in office. It led to his demise, as fellow Republican Ronda Storms ultimately crushed him in his primary election. Storms ended up losing in the general election to former House Democratic Representative Bob Henriquez, who has comported himself in a manner that usually would guarantee another four years from the voters.

That may very well happen, but it won’t be without a fight from his GOP challenger this year, Todd Jones.

Jones comes to his first race for public office with an impressive résumé for the position, including a former post as president of the Florida Association of Property Tax Professionals.

“Todd’s very accomplished in the appraisal world,” Henriquez acknowledged early Tuesday night as the two debated at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Tampa’s Westshore District. He added, however, that “this is more than an appraiser’s job. It’s about administration. It’s about leadership, and that’s really what I excel in.”

“It is an administrative job, but you don’t win the Super Bowl by putting a tennis player in the QB spot,” Jones responded.

“Do I look like a tennis player?” the self-deprecating and solidly built Henriquez countered (Jones later amended the line, asking if one would put a linebacker in a tennis match).

Jones said he and Henriquez agree that the appraiser’s job shouldn’t be a political job.

“It’s a hiring decision,” he said. “I’m willing to put my creds up against anybody, any day. I’m uniquely qualified for this job.”

Specifically, Jones takes issue with the appraiser office’s website, complaining that “you can’t do a comp search and export it to an Excel spreadsheet,” and says it’s the only such website in the state that doesn’t offer that option.

Henriquez defended the improvements made to the site. He said that when he took office in 2013, focus groups were brought to “test drive” those improvements to make the site as customer friendly as possible. Henriquez also said that there were morale problems when he succeeded Turner, which is why he focused on three words – rethink, reinvent and reinvigorate – in making changes. “You can fire a lot of people, but transformative change is something else, and that’s exactly what we endeavored to do,” he said, adding that his plans have just recently began to take shape.

Jones wasn’t entirely critical of Henriquez work, praising him for his strategic planning and morale-boosting efforts. But he said the job is ultimately about getting accurate values of property.

There was one legislative initiative passed in the recent Legislative Session in Tallahassee that may become an issue further along in this campaign. That would be a bill sponsored by Hialeah Republic Representative Bryan Avila that revises the requirements for an entity that may represent a taxpayer before the value adjustment board.

Jones said it would restrict taxpayers from challenging an assessment. Henriquez said the bill came from the South Florida delegation, and that it wouldn’t preclude “anybody from coming in.”

The event was sponsored by the Tampa Bay Young Republicans. With more than seven months to go before the general election, no doubt the two will engage in similar debates throughout the year.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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