Cynthia Riggs runs for assessor to make changes
Cynthia Riggs will face Cynthia Mitchell in a special election for the West Tisbury board of assessors next Thursday, May 18.
Ms. Riggs, a writer of mystery novels and the proprietor of the Cleaveland House bed and breakfast, traces her interest in the assessors to William Graham's suit against the town before the Massachusetts Appellate Tax Board.
"I think frankly we in the town owe a debt of gratitude to Bill Graham for bringing this whole thing up," she told The Times. "What Bill Graham was asking was for the system to be adjusted so that it is fair, equitable, and people are treated equally."
Cynthia Riggs, candidate for West Tisbury assessor. File photo by Ralph Stewart
She also feels she can change the climate she feels in the assessors' office. "One of the complaints we hear over and over is the secrecy, the closedness of the assessors' office - hostility, unfriendliness, lack of respect. One person, even in a short period of time, can make a difference. I think I can do that."
Ms. Riggs also faults the past practices of the assessors' office in funding legal actions without specific voter approval, and she connects her opponent to those practices. "The assessors were kind of falling into less-than-strictly-legal ways of doing things, taking legal fees out of the selectmen's budget, for instance. Now Cindy Mitchell, when she was appointed, immediately set up a line item for legal expenses for the assessors, which was a really commendable thing. But as treasurer and selectmen for many years, she was in a position to have done that 15 years ago and should have done it. In working as treasurer and selectmen with the assessors, she was part of the problem."
Ms. Riggs has a B.A. in geology from Antioch College and experience in soils testing for the USGS, which she feels would be valuable. "One of the weaknesses in the assessors' office now is they don't have anybody with any background in geology or earth science or physical sciences."
Ms. Riggs also feels that her positions after college have given her a lot of experience explaining complicated policies to the public. One of her jobs, she told The Times, was with the American Petroleum Institute, explaining oil industry issues to less-than-friendly audiences. Another was editing scientific material for the National Geographic Society. "One of my strengths," she said, "is in taking highly technical information and translating it into something the public can understand."
Ms. Riggs feels that she can do a better job of explaining the assessors to the voters and taxpayers. She proposes working with the other assessors to produce a handbook taxpayers can understand.
Born on the Island, Ms. Riggs is the eighth generation of her family to live in Cleaveland House. "It's frightening to me to think that if the taxes should go up to some level, what is it going to mean for the future of this house? Will my daughter and her children be able to hold on to it?"
Ms. Riggs suggests that some of the older houses in town could be designated as affordable housing units, with income and resale restrictions, in order to lower their assessed value and therefore property taxes.
The Times asked Ms. Riggs if she expects to stand for reelection after 11 months. "I wouldn't rule it out, but my plan at the moment is [not to run again]. One of my reasons for running is that the voters need a choice. Because Cindy Mitchell was appointed despite the reservations of Ron Rappaport, she is in effect an incumbent and therefore has an advantage over whoever is running against her. The voters need to have a choice, and I don't think Cindy is the right choice.... She's part of the good-old-boys network. She's a better good old boy than the good old boys are.... Our town has a large pool of talent that we haven't really drawn on.... If I can be elected, other people may take an interest. People may emerge who would be a better assessor than I. I would like to hand it over to someone who is better qualified than I am."