Deputy assessor, state rep seek Lafourche assessor’s seat

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Lafourche Parish’s chief deputy tax assessor and a state representative based in Thibodaux have announced their candidacies to replace the late Mike Martin in a special election assumed for the Nov. 4 ballot.

Martin, the parish’s tax assessor since 2001, died March 4 at the age of 58. Voters are expected to determine his replacement this year for a term that expires at the end of 2015.

Deputy Assessor Wendy Thibodeaux said Monday she would join the race, and state Rep. Jerome “Dee” Richard announced last week he was campaigning for the parishwide post.

Thibodeaux, a 42-year-old with no party affiliation, joined the Lafourche Assessor’s office in 2001 and rose to become Martin’s chief deputy in 2006. Her prior experience includes four years at the St. Bernard Parish Assessor’s office.

“I believe that this position as assessor is a responsability, not an opportunity,” said Thibodeaux, adding she delayed her announcement until after she could speak with Martin’s family. “The job of a tax assessor is delicate balance between the taxpayers, businesses and funding governmental services, and I don’t think it should be taken lightly.”

Richard, 56, no party affiliation, is in his second term in the state House of Representatives. The legislator said he decided to pursue the seat in order to further ascend in politics and transition to the parishwide setting.

“I just thought it was an opening for something a little higher,” Richard said. “It’s parishwide. It’s a challenge, it will be a challenge, and I like the challenge of serving the people of Lafourche Parish. … As much as I like being state representative, I think this is an opportunity I can’t pass up.”

An assessor’s job is not to levy taxes, but to set fair-market appraisals of private property throughout the parish. Assessments are used to calculate due taxes associated with millages approved by voters.

During the ongoing legislative session, Richard is assigned to the House’s committees on Education; Labor and Industrial Relations; and Transportation, Highways, and Public Works.

Richard downplayed the necessity of experience as it relates to the assessor’s office, saying he will rely upon the experts who already work in the office. But he said some of his lawmaking experience has him prepared to learn the job quickly.

“I sat on the Ways and Means Committee, which is the tax committee. I’ve learned about budgets and about taxes, itself, and certainly about property appraisals, about different millages,” Richard said. “That gives me a good background, and it’s a good steppingstone. … I’ve been straight. I consider myself a good politician, one that looks after the people first and not myself. That’s what I pride myself on.”

Thibodeaux, on the other hand, has worked extensively in real estate and appraising. She said did field work for three years with two residential appraisers, is certified as a deputy assessor through the International Association of Assessing Officers, has more than 350 credited hours in courses relating to assessing procedures and practices and has passed the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practices exam four times.

“I have the experience and I have the education, specifically for this job,” Thibodeaux said. “I just want to ensure everyone that I’m going to continue Mike’s mission and serve the public like we all have for the past 13 years under Mike.”

The Lafourche Parish Council is expected to set a special election for the assessor’s office for Nov. 4, when it would coincide with an open general ballot for Congressional and judicial offices, Council Chairman Daniel Lorraine said. In the interim, Thibodeaux is leading the office.

Whoever wins the special election for assessor would have to run again for a full term in the fall of 2015.

Richard’s Dist. 55 House seat is scheduled for its next election in the fall of 2015. Should he win in the assessor’s race, he would vacate the House seat, which would then need to be filled via a special election.