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Joe Henderson: Bob Henriquez, Todd Jones spar over issues in Hillsborough property appraiser race

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Since Bob Henriquez took over as Hillsborough County’s property appraiser four years ago, he has taken several steps to modernize the office. There are nine fewer employees than the office had before Henriquez arrived, and the department’s budget is lower.

Most important, though — Henriquez hasn’t had a batch of negative headlines. That’s no small matter. The last time an incumbent property appraiser in the county failed at re-election was 1988, when Bud Parker lost to Ron Alderman.

Both Alderman and his successor, Rob Turner, lost their jobs following scandals — something Henriquez has avoided during his first term.

So, it’s likely that Republican Todd Jones, who is challenging Henriquez in the Nov. 8 general election, faces some challenges in his first attempt to win public office. He is not deterred, though.

“I’m an appraiser running to be an appraiser, not a politician,” he said.

Jones, who has a lengthy career as a certified appraiser, took out a $100,000 loan last October to help finance his campaign. He has been active at local forums and on social media, but Henriquez — who trounced longtime political icon Ronda Storms in 2012 to win this job — is a former state representative and high school football coach with high name recognition among voters.

“That has obviously been one of the challenges in my race,” Jones said.

Henriquez said he has independent polling and one from the local Democratic Party that shows him with a double-digit lead.

“Our polls have been constantly good since August,” he said. “The undecideds (voters) have come down considerably lately.

“I’m not taking anything for granted, though. My opponent is largely an unknown quantity, but he is a credible candidate.”

The two have sparred over multiple issues, including privacy rights. As technology has evolved, the old practice of assessing property by personal inspection has largely given way to aerial mapping by low-altitude planes.

Jones has argued that the practice of using these high-resolution images to show changes in properties could expose homeowners to unwarranted intrusion in the privacy of their backyards. Henriquez said he is following a state mandate to use that system.

He said the photography is done by a private company and not subject to the state’s sunshine laws. Jones disagreed, saying even potentially compromising photos would be public record.

“We look for roof types, measurements, and things like the condition of the house,” Henriquez said. “You don’t see anything you shouldn’t see. Besides, every three years we are required to provide aerial photography to the state Department of Revenue.”

Said Jones: “(Aerial mapping) is not required. It’s allowed by state law, but not required. I guess we have a different legal opinion there.”

Another point of contention: The number of appraisal disputes decided in favor of the property owner.

Jones said 96 percent of the cases wind up on the side of government. Henriquez said that’s not true, that 85 percent of the cases are either resolved through a settlement or, in case of a hearing, in favor of the property owner.

“You’re entitled to your own set of opinions, but not your own set of facts,” Henriquez said.

The job, which pays more than $159,000 a year, includes managing a department budgeted for 129 employees (there are open positions now). Henriquez pointed to his experience as the head of a large department, while Jones’ experience is concentrated on the actual appraising process.

“He is trying to say I just fell out of a tree in North Tampa and into the job (four years ago),” Henriquez said. “But I think the best way to know the job is to actually do the job.”

Jones understands what he is up against, but says he will continue to press on until Election Day.

“As I’ve said, I’m an appraiser running to be an appraiser,” he said. “What would you do if Derek Jeter showed up and wanted to play on your team? Would you let him?

“But if I can’t overcome (Henriquez’s) name recognition, I will go to my deathbed knowing I gave it everything I had.”

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Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.

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