Candidates: Familiarization, employees key to transition

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Five candidates’ names will appear on next week’s primary ballot for the office of Covington County Revenue Commissioner.

Lorene McCart, George “Chuck” Patterson, Gwen Kelley, Cindy Cook and Meredith Peters are all vying to replace long-time Commissioner Janice Hart, who is retiring at the conclusion of her current term.

Each candidate addressed stepping into an office after Hart’s long run.

“I had asked if I could go and learn the procedures before I ever go into office to learn how the system works, so I would be prepared,” McCart said. “That way, I won’t be going into the office not knowing. They do have a one-day class, but I want to learn as much from Mrs. Hart as I can.”

Kelley also addressed the importance of familiarizing herself with the ins and outs of the revenue office.

“The first thing I would do is get to know the employees,” Kelley said. “I would learn each one of their jobs. I will do a lot of observing and reviewing to see if we can improve on speed, human resources and anywhere else we need improvement. But, if something is running smoothly, I won’t be changing that. I don’t believe in fixing something that’s not broken, but I’m sure in an office that size, there are things that can be improved.”

Meredith Peters said she, too, would rely on the expertise of employees already in place as a guide for how to incorporate her own brand of leadership.

“It is important to maintain continuity of leadership,” Peters said. “In order to do this, I would want to work out a way to come into the office on a regular basis in order to familiarize myself with the day-to-day operations prior to taking office. Second, it is important to get to know the people who work there, as they have a wealth of wisdom and knowledge that would be an asset to any new revenue commissioner.”

Cindy Cook said she knows there is much to learn about the office, but said her past as a realtor and appraiser has prepared her well.

“Being familiar with the office from being a realtor and appraiser helps,” Cook said. “But, luckily, Miss Janice has someone who is her right-hand person. We’ll just have to go in there, and hopefully she’ll still be there. Basically it’s going to be a lot of listen and learn to find out what’s going on. Hopefully, there will be some education, but there is protocol already established that I will follow, and I have a pretty good grip on it from having been in real estate for so long.”

Patterson also said he will rely on the help of staff to acclimate himself to the position.

“I plan to work with the current staff to familiarize myself with the daily operations and utilize my business and accounting background to effectively manage the office,” he said. “I want to have a good working relationship with the staff and the citizens of Covington County who pay property taxes.”

Each candidate also touched on ways the office can be improved.

“The office has moved forward a lot,” Cook said. “But, when it comes to how we can look at info on clients on the online databases, it is limited as to the info you can get without a subscription. I would like to see us be able to see that broadened. Mainly, I would like to see us be able to allow people to pay online. That’s very important for people today, especially older people who can’t get out of their homes. I just want to make it easier for people to get information out of the courthouse.”

Patterson said there are several areas of potential improvement that will need to be addressed.

“You must fully understand the current process, identify the areas of improvement and must know how to measure those areas of improvement,” he said. “I plan to utilize this method when elected to make necessary changes that will improve efficiency and provide convenience to our taxpayers.”

McCart said areas of improvement are something she will need time in office in order to diagnose.

“Until I can see the budget, I can’t say that I’m going to do something, because I don’t know where the money is being spent,” she said.

Kelley said moving to online payments would be a plus.

“It’s my understanding the county is already working on that,” she said. “Certainly, I would like to see that happen. It’s a much-needed piece of technology in today’s world, as fast-paced as it is. I also would like to see computer systems more interlinked to cut down on trips from the administration office to the courthouse.”

Peters said online bill payments would help in a variety of ways.

“To maintain functionality of the office by building upon the infrastructure that is already in place,” she said. “To do this I believe it is important to implement the capability for property owners to pay their property tax electronically as well as online via an integrated website. An integrated website would also allow property owners to locate, not only the maps, which are already online, but also find answers to important questions and have the capability to download applicable documents as needed.”

Peters also said those changes would be dependent on the budget.

“This would depend on appropriate approval and budgetary restraints; however, there are several offices across Alabama that have implemented these ideas and I believe it would be an invaluable asset and convenience to our community.”

The five candidates vying for revenue commissioner will appear on the primary ballot Tue., June 3.

There are no candidates for revenue commissioner on the Democratic ballot; therefore, the winner of the Republican primary will be the next revenue commissioner, talking office in October of 2015.

In a field of five, a candidate must receive 50 percent-plus one of the votes cast. If none of the candidates receive that many votes, the top two candidates will be in a primary runoff in July.