GOP Candidate’s Ethical Concerns: A Continuing Story

This morning, serious concerns were raised about the professional conduct of GOP candidate Steve Miller for Larimer County Assessor.

Read this continuing piece for more on the story and a rebuttal from Miller. Citizens Ask for Reform
Gerry Horak, who led Fair Assessment Reform, met with county officials, including the current assessor, to create a citizen’s group to improve the property assessment system following news that the assessor’s office had fielded nearly 15,000 property tax protests in 2005 – the most in the state by far. Steve Miller attended one of the meetings leading Horak to believe he supported the idea. Horak, who is currently running for County Commissioner as an unaffiliated candidate, said that the idea was initially supported by the County Commissioners and the current assessor. They then did what he termed “an about face” and killed the program.

According to a September 2005 article in the North Forty News, Miller opposed the creation of the citizen task force as well.

Miller contended that the commissioners had no authority to be involved in the process and, “since the board sits as the county board of equalization in property assessment appeals, the board may have a conflict of interest participating in such a task force.”

Assessor Johnson contended in the same article:

“While declining to be openly critical, Johnson said he inherited many of the office’s current difficulties from his predecessor. Miller, he suggested, actually opposes creation of the task force for fear it will reveal his earlier deficiencies.”

Conduct during Protest Hearings
Larimer County Commissioner and Board of Equalization member Karen Wagner, a democrat from Fort Collins, recounted how Miller was admonished during a hearing for inappropriately politicking by complaining about the assessor’s office rather than address his client’s appeal.

Following another hearing, Miller was reproached by GOP Commissioner Kathay Rennels for gesturing “in a come hither way” and speaking inappropriately to a female employee of the assessor’s office, recalled Wagner.

Miller’s Rebuttal
Miller proudly claims that “I am a certified public accountant. That’s what I do. That’s what I am.”

However, those warm fuzzy feelings evaporated when confronted with the American Institute of Certified Professional Accountants’ (AICPA) Code of Professional Conduct which clearly state a CPA’s independence would be impaired if he/she was responsible for the design or development of financial information systems and for supervising personnel responsible for the daily operation of the systems for a client. It goes without saying that his previous involvement in building and supervising the current models that generated the tax valuation for taxpayers (now his clients) would be considered suspect according to the code.

Miller stammered that he didn’t have to answer questions because this reporter is not employed by the media. He asserted that it does not apply to him even though his letterhead and signature state that he is a CPA. First, Miller argued that AICPA Section 100 – Independence, Integrity and Objectivity refers only to confidentiality. Then, he claimed that since he’s acting as an assessor and not a CPA that the guidelines don’t matter. Later, he stated that the code applies only to income tax services rendered by CPAs.

As long as I make it clear that I am an advocate for the… I mean I don’t propose to be objective. But still, if you will look at what I’ve submitted… are you good at numbers? I don’t think you’ll find anything unethical I’ve done.

When questioned about the 50 percent fee he charges clients that are applied to the cost savings won on appeal, he said that the fee was below than the industry standard. Colorado Confidential asked Miller where a copy of the fee standard could be obtained for comparison, he backtracked and stated that there was no industry standard.

Inside Access to Data?
Another concern is how Miller is accessing the property tax valuation data for his commerical appeal work. Horak mentioned that one of the key recommendations by Fair Assessment Reform was long overdue department website improvements. “If you go into the assessor’s office they can do many more things, like searches on the database, than you can do on your own computer from home tied into their system. Is Miller being fed information by political allies within the department since he claims he hasn’t been back to the office since he left in 2002?

Wagner related that Larimer County’s Human Resources Department has held sessions for employees on policy-appropriate political activities.

I wouldn’t imagine in my wildest dreams that it would need to include a disclaimer that you don’t funnel what would normally be considered confidential information from your department to a candidate for the benefit of their campaign. That is outrageous.

Miller vehemently denies any responsibility for the current property tax modeling system in use despite public comments by assessor’s office staff to the contrary.

The Backstory
Miller was term-limited out of office four years ago. In 2005, Larimer County voters narrowly agreed to increase term limits for county offices from two 4-year terms to three terms. The measure passed by a scant 350 votes. Miller is now eligible to run for office again though he had served as Assessor for 14 years; most of that time before the previous two term-limit rule was put into place.

The race between Miller and current Assessor Larry Johnson, also a Republican, has been contentious and has resulted in a flurry of negative statements in the press, OpEds and letters to the editor – some of which were reported here first on August 4 as written without disclosure by Assessor office employees.

Miller stated to this reporter that he was encouraged to run by supporters and that he “didn’t even go back to the office. I left as the assessor’s office best friend.”

That’s an interesting presumption to make knowing that he now makes his living protesting what he considers assessment errors by his former staff.

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