Assessor John Noguez stepped aside last week to attend to his criminal defense, but he made it clear that he plans to return once he is cleared of the corruption allegations against him.
But his replacement doesn't expect that to happen any time soon. In his first interview since taking the helm of the Assessor's Office, Santos Kreimann said he is “planning on being here the remainder of the term” — that is, until December 2014.
Kreimann is also studying to become a certified appraiser — another sign that he plans to be around for a while. Kreimann is a veteran L.A. County employee, not a politician, but in the interview, he did not rule out running for assessor in the 2014 election.
“If I say I'm going to run for it, I become a politician,” Kreimann said. “If I tell you I'm not going to run, I become a lame duck.”
For now, Kreimann has his hands full cleaning up an office that's been under a cloud since news of the investigation into Noguez's alleged pay-to-play activities first broke in February. Kreimann's first order of business was to put two of Noguez's top lieutenants — Mark McNeil and Andrew Stephens — on paid leave. In bureaucratic parlance, they have been “reassigned to their homes.”
McNeil and Stephens both had their offices searched during the D.A.'s raid of the Assessor's Office in late April.
“They are people that we are looking at, among other employees,” said Dave Demerjian, head of the D.A.'s public integrity unit.
Kreimann is also trying to set a new tone in the office. Noguez was well known for having hundreds of friends, including wealthy tax agents whose job is to push for lower property assessments. Since Noguez was elected, some front-line appraisers have grumbled that tax agents had excessive influence with Noguez.
“I, fortunately, don't have any friends,” Kreimann told the Weekly. “I don't know any tax agents.”
Kreimann also said he intends to give more support to front-line appraisers in appeals hearings, which was the source of widespread complaint under Noguez.
“I'd like to strive to make sure the professionals are viewed as the experts in terms of valuations,” Kreimann said. “They spend more time in their regions than tax agents do. Their opinions should get higher weight and more deference than an individual that comes in at the last minute.”
Kreimann said he would also try to address a perceived culture of deal-making at assessment hearings.
“We need to get away from deal-making, and go toward basing it on solid analysis,” Kreimann said. “We're not deal-makers.”
Kreimann said he had one conversation with Noguez, just after his name was first mentioned as a possible replacement. Since then, they have had no contact, and Noguez will not be involved in any aspect of running the office, Kreimann said.
Noguez has not been charged with a crime, and it still appears that he won't be for a while. Assuming he is charged, it could take a year or more for the case to go to trial. Should he be cleared, Kreimann acknowledged that “it's his right to come back.”
In the meantime, Kreimann is still the director of the county's Department of Beaches and Harbors. For now, he has left the operations largely to his executive staff while he runs the Assessor's Office.
The assessor is required to be a certified real estate appraiser. Kreimann said he planned to get a temporary certification within 30 days, and would study over the next year to take the appraisal exam.
He is also working on upgrading the assessor's computer systems and addressing its forecasting methods, while he tries to lift the cloud that has been hanging over the office for the last several months.
“The men and women of the Assessor's Office are incredibly talented and dedicated,” Kreimann said. “They're doing a good job in trying times.”