Different experiences of candidates animate property appraiser race


In the early days of their campaign to be the next Palm Beach County property appraiser, Dorothy Jacks and Shelley Vana had pledged to keep it friendly.

But the heat of the campaign has singed the edges of that pledge.

Vana, a county commissioner and former state House of Representatives member, has attacked Jacks for encouraging a write-in candidate to file, a move that pushed their election date to Aug. 30 instead of Nov. 8. Jacks, the chief deputy property appraiser for the last four years, has said Vana knows — or should know — the rules of elections in the county.

Jacks has described Vana as a career politician. Vana has described Jacks as “an employee” hoping to lead an important agency better guided by someone with political experience.

Well, now.

Beyond the barbs, Vana and Jacks do bring differences to the race — differences voters will have a chance to weigh in on at the end of the month.

Vana had a long career as a teacher in Palm Beach County before being elected to the state House in 2002. She won election to the county commission six years later and was re-elected in 2012.

She said her experience in Tallahassee, as well as her experience listening and taking direction from voters, would hold her in good stead as property appraiser.

“I do bring a lot of experience in leadership,” Vana said. “I know how to reach out. I think the things I have done prove I know how to reach out and I have attention to detail.”

Jacks has been a long-time staffer at the property appraiser’s office. She is running with the endorsement of the man she hopes to succeed, Gary Nikolits, as well as with the endorsement of 13 other property appraisers across the state.

“They know I understand the work,” Jacks said.

Asked whether her campaign encouraged a third candidate to enter the race and thus push the election forward, Jacks said it was Nikolits who encouraged a former property appraiser’s office staffer, Charles H. Stahman, to file as a write-in candidate.

Jacks said having the property appraiser’s race decided in August instead of November will give the office’s new leadership time to prepare for the new year.

Vana said it’s a trick designed to have the election decided by a smaller pool of voters.

“I call it manipulating the election,” Vana said. “My opponent manipulated the election so that it would take place in August instead of in November when more people vote. It’s manipulating an election, and it’s wrong.”

Jacks said her campaign has followed the rules.

“If she didn’t know the write-in process, I don’t know what to say,” Jacks said.

Vana said she does know the county’s elections rules.

“I have never solicited a fake opponent for myself,” she said. “That goes to your character.”

Nonetheless, Vana said she’s determined to win so she can tackle a couple of the goals she has for the office.

“The first thing I want to do is make it user-friendly so the average person knows what the heck the property appraiser does,” Vana said.

Vana said she also wants to improve the office’s computer system so its information is better protected.

“I want to make sure all of the information is backed up in a robust fashion,” she said.

For Jacks, Job No. 1 will be making sure key veteran staff members are replaced by competent people.

“Our biggest challenge is we have quite a few legacy staff,” Jacks said. “We have to have the right people for those jobs.”

Jacks said she also wants technological improvements.

“I’d like to look for more opportunities to help taxpayers, ways for them to reach us without to come in or call us,” she said.



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