MAHOPAC, N.Y. - According to some concerned residents, town assessor Glenn Droese's job is in jeopardy because “he won't play ball with people on the Town Board who own lakefront property.”
Droese's term ends Sept. 30 and the Town Board is expected to name either a new assessor or retain Droese at this week’s meeting (Sept. 25).
Mahopac resident Gary Martin started an online petition at www.thepetitionsite.com, contending that “the board is considering other applicants while the present assessor is more than well-qualified but won't bend the rules on assessments.” Martin said Droese is not being invited back because some board members wanted their property values reduced, but Droese would not oblige.
On the petition site, Martin states, “This ousting of an outstanding citizen from his gainful employment is about politics and money, pure and simple.”
Martin told Mahopac News he has known Droese for 50 years and they went to Mahopac High School together.
“Being a homeowner in Mahopac, I had occasion to meet with him about my assessment and he was inflexible with me but treated me with courtesy and respect and was very professional,” Martin said. “As it turned out, I realized my assessment was pretty much about right. I walked away educated. There doesn't seem to be a valid reason [to let him go]. He has integrity.”
Assessors in New York State are appointed by their town boards or city councils and serve six-year terms. Droese’s term concludes on Sept. 30.
Droese said there is "some truth" to what Martin wrote on the online petition site.
“But I can't speak to the specifics because my job is at risk,” he said.
Droese served as a senior real property appraiser for the town of Carmel for several years before taking over the assessor's post in Somers. In 2011, he said town Supervisor Ken Schmitt approached him about returning to Carmel and assuming the assessors' duties.
“[Schmitt] said there was a mess to clean up,” Droese said. “There was just one employee left in the office; all the others had left. I cleaned up that mess. Then I worked through the revaluation project. That was not fun. But I did my job and I brought the town to a 100 percent level of assessment and brought equity to the town. That was our goal.”
The town has now had a 100 percent level of assessment for the three years in a row, the first time in the history of Carmel that has happened.
In June, Droese was awarded the Excellence in Equity Award from the state Department of Taxation and Finance.
Droese said he was surprised when he was asked to submit a resume and interview for the job this past summer as the end of his tenure drew near.
“Typically, you don't have to submit a resume, you are usually reappointed if you're doing a good job,” he said.
Droese said no one on the Town Board has approached him specifically about changing an individual assessment, but added, “there are definitely members who said maybe I didn't do enough for the lake [residents].”
“The conversations weren't always about the lake, I don't want to put the Town Board in a bad light,” he added. “They've had conversations about the entire town.”
But Martin said that while the Town Board was in favor of carrying out the reval project, he contended that some of them “were not so happy with the results.”
Mahopac resident Bernadette Klein told Mahopac News that four people have been interviewed for the job: Droese, two Carmel assessor's office employees, and County Legislator Paul Jonke, who was Droese's predecessor. Supervisor Ken Schmitt and two other board members confirmed that the statement is accurate.
But Klein said she believes that at least Councilman Mike Barile and Schmitt would like to bring Jonke, who faced several lawsuits while he held the assessor's post, back into the fold. If that happens, Klein said, it would be a conflict of interest because Jonke represented Barile when he went before the Board of Assessment Review to grieve Barile's assessment.
“The person who grieved [Barile's] taxes is now a nominee,” Klein said. “He is the former assessor and was sued by residents. It cost $1 million [for a] settlement. During this time, he left his post and walked away from his contract. He just abandoned his post. He left the town in the lurch. Now, they are rehiring him? How does that make sense?”
Emails to Jonke's office seeking comment were not returned by press time.
Barile said that he couldn't recall using Jonke to represent him, saying his business partner usually dealt with tax grievances, but he added that the idea of using Jonke "doesn't sound right.”
Asked why residents who are concerned about what is allegedly happening with the assessor's job but don't come forward at Town Board meetings to express their concerns, both Martin and Klein said people are afraid of retribution, especially from Barile.
“Half the business [properties] in this town are owned by [Barile] and the rest work for him,” Klein said. “You know whose tax rolls he's going to look at first. I am not stupid; I know what I am up against. But I have to stand up against it when I see an injustice.”
Martin said he believes many residents just aren't engaged enough in local government to care about what's going on.
“I'm not afraid to speak up; I can hold my own,” he said. “But most people don't even know what is going on. They are disenfranchised and disconnected, and I think some people are intimidated.”
Schmitt said that during his tenure as supervisor, no resident has ever been a target for retribution and he'd never let that happen under his watch.
“That is the furthest thing from the truth; that's never happened and will not happen as long as I am here,” he said. “It's something we do not do. We value everyone's input whether or not we agree with them.”
Schmitt said he couldn't comment on personnel matters but told Mahopac News on Sept. 19 that no decision on the assessor's job had been made yet, but it would be announced at the Sept. 25 meeting.
“This particular matter is very contentious,” he said. “We have to make the appropriate decision and consider a lot of facts. I like Glenn and think he's done a good job as an assessor. Our assessments are at 100 percent, which is where we want to be. His performance has been good.”
Asked then why the matter was “contentious,” Schmitt alluded to the revaluation project from two and a half years ago.
“The reval was a very difficult undertaking with a lot of moving parts,” he said. “As with most revals, there is going to be a group in the community that isn't going to be happy because their assessments changed. There were times when emotions were running very high and a lot of times, they take it out on the assessor when they are not happy with the performance. I'm not suggesting that that's the Town Board's position, but some in the community felt that way.”
Barile said he respects Droese and the job he's done and dismissed the notion that he's engineering Droese's departure to replace him with Jonke.
“The Town Board never listens to me,” he said. “But no one should take their position for granted.”
He said replacing Droese shouldn't be a foregone conclusion.
“Everyone is jumping the gun,” he said. “Glenn has his issues just like I do, and everyone does. He's a wonderful guy and does a good job. But we know what we are doing; let us do our job.”
Schmitt agreed, saying residents who think something untoward is happening regarding the assessor's position aren't privy to all the information.
“When the public doesn't have all the facts, they don't understand the full dynamic of it,” he said. “We look at everything. We look at the big picture. There are folks out there who are surmising what may have occurred and they are entitled to their position, but they may not have all the facts. I do appreciate the feedback though.”
Councilman John Lupinacci said he wouldn't comment on the issue because it involved a personnel matter; however, he did say he never approached Droese about lowering his assessment. In fact, he said, it was just the opposite.
“I actually asked him to raise it,” he said. “I told him it should be higher because I did improvements. But I do not tell him what to do or how to do his job.”