Jonathan Revere, candidate for assessor
Jonathan Revere of Seven Gates Farm, West Tisbury, is a candidate for assessor, running against Glenn Hearn and incumbent Michael Colaneri. Mr. Revere, 66, is a graduate of Harvard College and a consultant in technology transfer, the buying, selling, and investing in new technologies.
A year-round resident since 1984, Mr. Revere's face-to-face involvement with West Tisbury town government began in 1997, when he began monitoring selectmen's meetings for the now-defunct West Tisbury Taxpayers' Association, a practice which has continued in an almost unbroken string to the present day. He told The Times that he thinks he has missed only three meetings in nearly nine years, a better attendance record than any of the selectmen during that span. He began audio-taping the meetings in 2000, leaving the tapes at the library, and switched to video-taping for local cable-TV in 2003.
The current race for assessor will be Mr. Revere's fourth try for elected office. He was an unsuccessful candidate for selectman in 1999 and 2000, and for assessor in 2001.
A long-time student of town government, Mr. Revere asserts that there are four sections of the Massachusetts General Laws that govern all aspects of town affairs: the open meeting law, the public records law, the conflict-of interest law, and the uniform procurement law. Mr. Revere has made it his business to be familiar with those laws, as well as with the statutes that specifically govern the conduct of the selectmen and, more recently, the assessors.
Mr. Revere told The Times that he became interested in the assessors' role in town government several years ago when he discovered how little the ordinary taxpayers, himself included, understand about how assessments work. "We as taxpayers," he says, "have not a clue, generally, as to how our assessments are calculated and what our options are.... There is a manual, but it is fiendishly difficult to understand.... We don't understand the complexity and the constraints of the mass appraisal program in Massachusetts." He cautions, "We may even be blaming the assessors for something the assessors can't work around."
However, he is confident that if he is elected, he will be able to explain assessments in language ordinary people can understand.
While he thinks that the assessors' office has done a poor job of communicating with taxpayers, he is high in his praise of West Tisbury principal assessor Jo-Ann Resendes: "I think Jo-Ann Resendes does a marvelous job in grasping the complexities of all of this. She is a very intelligent and articulate woman... She is an invaluable resource to the town. I hope that if I'm elected she will continue to provide the background and efficiency that she's done before. She is an integral part of how we can improve the board of assessors, change it for the good."
Plans for change
Mr. Revere has several proposals to improve the operation and communications of the assessors' office. The most ambitious is to make a survey of Massachusetts coastal communities, "because it's in the coastal towns of Massachusetts that there's a huge discrepancy between the high end and the low end." At the high end, he explains, a purchase price may reflect only a rich person's ability to pay any price, rather than the actual fair market value of the property. Assessors, however, by law have no other way to determine fair market value than the recorded transactions.
Mr. Revere hopes to have the support of the other two assessors in the survey, but either way he plans to do it on his own and at his own expense. The survey will ask what the tax rates are in other resort seacoast communities, how they handle the Massachusetts state requirements for assessments, and what outside consultants and software, if any, they use. The survey will then contact all the companies who work with the towns, in order to see whether there are different ways to meet state mass appraisal requirements. Mr. Revere hopes that West Tisbury can take a leadership role, using the results of the survey and other information, to investigate the possibility of special legislation to enable seacoast assessors to address the discrepancies he sees.
Mr. Revere listed for The Times several other changes he would propose if elected:
- Establish a private web site, which he plans to call the West Tisbury Tax Advocate, which, he says, "would show you how your rate card is truly calculated - buildable land, unbuildable land, prime land, wetlands, all of that." The Vision Appraisal web site shows only the assessments, not how they are calculated.
- Contract with whatever consultant the town hires to come to West Tisbury and give two forums a year, winter and summer, to explain how the revaluation is done.
- Move the assessors' office to the old Music Street library building for reasons of privacy and access.
- Make all abatement hearings public and publish an annual list of abatements granted and denied.
- Exhaust mediation or arbitration before resorting to litigation.
- Discuss litigation in public sessions.
Mr. Revere says that he applauds the decision made recently to add a legal expenses line-item to the assessors' budget. This year $30,000 is proposed. If the assessors find they need more money than that, they will have to ask the voters at a special town meeting.
Mr. Revere has already reserved a spot in the course for assessors, which begins on April 21 ("Assessors 101"), and he is also investigating more advanced courses, if he is elected, such as the ones taken by professional assessors. He plans to spend two hours a week holding "office hours" in the assessors' office, both to be available to taxpayers and to learn how the office functions.
Finally, Mr. Revere told The Times that he will accept no campaign contributions, that he plans to hold no other town offices, elected or appointed, while he is an assessor, and that he will limit his service to at most two terms.