Ross out as chief appraiser in Monroe County

A week after being fired by the Monroe County Board of Assessors as its chief appraiser, Alveno Ross said Wednesday he still hasn’t been told why.

Ross, who also is a Macon city councilman, said he attended the scheduled April 1 assessors meeting after learning the location of the meeting had been changed. At the meeting, he was presented an agenda that was different than the one his staff prepared.

Shortly after the meeting began, Ross said the board members — most of whom had been appointed to their positions in mid-March — met in executive session, then summoned him into the meeting.

“Five minutes later, the chairman called me in and told me my services would no longer be required,” Ross said.

Ross was fired in a 3-1 vote. There is currently one vacancy on the board. Jane Newton, the lone holdover from the previous board of assessors, was the dissenting vote. She declined to comment about the situation.

Ross spent 26 years with the Bibb County Board of Assessors as an appraiser before taking the position with Monroe County.

Ed Hutcheson, chairman of the Monroe County assessors board, declined to say Wednesday why Ross was let go, calling the decision a personnel matter.

“I can’t discuss personnel issues,” he said. “We are going to make some changes in the assessor’s office. We have a new board, and we wanted to make it a more citizen-friendly office. Four of us are newly appointed, and we felt like some changes had to be made.”

Ross said he thinks he was fired for political reasons.

Monroe County Commission Chairman James Vaughn has appealed the assessments for various agricultural properties he owns in the county, Ross said.

“The only lingering matter we had was with Chairman Vaughn,” Ross said. “My suspicion is that it was all political. ... The biggest dispute we had was his property and from about six other property owners.”

Wednesday, Vaughn denied he had anything to do with Ross getting fired, saying he only learned about it after it happened. He said the new board of assessors was appointed because they had “experience in real estate.”

“Seventy percent of the land in the county is agricultural,” Vaughn said. “We tried to get people in place (who) understand appraisals.”

Ross said it’s the staff, not the assessors, who perform the appraisals and that he has plenty of experience with agricultural land as an appraiser. He pointed out that Monroe County had previous difficulties in the 2002 and 2005 digests from its agricultural assessments, and he and his staff corrected many of those problems during the 2008 assessment.

That assessment, he said, allowed the county to recover an extra $1.63 million as well as saved taxpayers $125,000 in budget reductions and various penalties that were avoided.

Ross said he, his staff and the previous board of assessors worked to get a consent order against the county lifted after he took the Monroe County job in March 2008.

Vaughn said agricultural properties in Monroe County are being valued differently than they are in other counties.

“The land in this county, there’s a 300 percent difference here than in other counties,” he said.

But Ross said Vaughn’s land was valued in accordance with the law.

“(Vaughn) would like (his land) compared to swampland in Crawford County,” Ross said.

Hutcheson said he received no input from the board of commissioners about Ross.

“That’s (Ross’) speculation,” he said.

Vaughn said there’s no conflict of interest in being a landowner and having a seat on the county commission.

“People have the right to say that, but there’s no conflict of interest with an independent board,” he said. “I didn’t give up the right to have my property fairly assessed once I was elected chairman.”

Vaughn said he hopes the assessors find a new appraiser who “is a better fit for the county.”

Hutcheson said he hoped to have a new appraiser in place within the next 60 days.

For his part, Ross said he’s proud of the work he and his staff did in the past two years, noting that being an appraiser is often difficult.

“There’s no protection for us (from the state) when we try to carry out the law,” he said.

“If we fail, that’s grounds for dismissal, and if we succeed, that’s apparently grounds for dismissal. The state gives no protection from political whims.”

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.