Maxey Shows Moxie in Curious Bid for Tax Assessor
Glen Maxey defends his bid for tax assessor-collector
The timing was none too good for Glen Maxey: Just as the former state representative is launching a campaign faulting Nelda Wells Spears' performance as Travis County's tax assessor-collector – and urging voters to elect him to the job instead – the Texas Association of Counties Leadership Foundation comes out and says she's doing just fine. Well enough, in fact, to give her a couple of awards: one for Exceptional Delivery of Services for its online-accessible services and another for Exceptional Delivery of Services for "relating quality performance and customer service." The awards were among 13 given out by the group (which, among other things, lobbies the Legislature on behalf of county government officials) to nine counties for good examples of "best practices" in serving citizens.
The first award recognized improvements in Travis County's Web-based services, which critics had said were shutting out those with disabilities. By teaming with Hamer Enterprises, the IBM Human Ability and Accessibility Center, and the Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired to revamp the site (www.traviscountytax.org), it became "citizen-centric and accommodates the needs of a wide range of users." The second award was for a program called Connecting Values and Performance, in which Spears did away with awards for volume of calls handled – which was leading to high employee burnout and turnover – and instead prioritized quality of service over quantity to reduce repeat callers who weren't fully informed the first time.
As if that weren't enough, the Statesman then piled on with an editorial ridiculing Maxey's desire to make the office more activist in nature, saying the position was a "paper-pushing" job, not a rhetorical one.
Not surprisingly, Maxey was nonplussed by the awards and downright hostile about the editorial. He congratulated Spears on winning the honors but said, "I don't think they'll play a role [in the election] at all." He then turned the focus back to his main campaign issue – the tax assessor's duty as voter registrar to get more registered voters in Travis Co. – and unloaded both barrels on the Statesman.
"There is a long history of the writer of that editorial having it in for me going back to the time I ran for the Lege in what he thought should have been a district represented by a Hispanic," said Maxey, who represented Southeast Austin's District 51 from 1991 to 2003. "I have not gotten a fair shake from him since. The editorial was gratuitous. ... He wanted to use this opportunity to inject things into the campaign that haven't even become part of the campaign."
Since the editorial was unsigned, we were curious how he knows the identity of the writer.
"Arnold Garcia [Jr., the Statesman's editorial page editor] is hiding behind it," Maxey asserted. "He called and interviewed me after the Marty Toohey story [an Aug. 5 profile of the race in the Statesman]. Even after I said privatization [of the county's delinquent tax-collection service, a possible major issue in the race] was not my position, he said, 'Yeah, well, that could change after you're there.'"
(We e-mailed the Statesman for a response; Garcia is on vacation, but editorial writer David Lowery replied, "Our editorials represent the opinions of the editorial board, not individual writers. You'll have to ask Arnold about any grudges he holds. I know of none.")
"This office is a paper-pushing office right now," Maxey continued. "I'm not criticizing the staff and the job they've done on that piece of it, but you have a responsibility to be leading on more than just car registrations. The person in that office should be leading the conversation. I was told that her position on going to the Lege is that it isn't her job.
"The Statesman just had an article on the County Appraisal District not having the tools to do its job. If not, then the tax assessor-collector should be actively at the Lege trying to get those tools. When the voter-registration debate happened [the "voter ID" bills in the Lege, widely interpreted as a Republican attempt to suppress Democratic turnout], it was led by Paul Bettencourt, the tax assessor-collector of Harris County, who was spinning info to get them to suppress registration. There was not a single voter registrar [testifying at the Lege] other than Bettencourt. We should have been there, and I will be there in 2009." Maxey added that he surveyed 829 apartment complexes in the county and that of 125,236 doors, at least 76,057 of them had no registered voter living behind them.
Asked what she thought of the daily's description of her job as a "paper-pushing" one, Spears replied: "I wouldn't call it that. That's the way they perceive it."
As for Maxey's charges that she doesn't do enough to register voters, the mild-mannered Spears – whose personality is about as unpolitician as an elected official could have – said: "He'll have to explain that a little better to me. We have many deputy voter registrars, including Glen. ... Just prior to the election, we put most of the information on the website so that people don't have to go out and find it; they can just go to the website. We also go to many community organizations, homeowners associations, and other functions to actively register voters."
And on heading down the street to the Capitol, she said: "I wasn't elected to the Lege; he was. He should have stayed over there and done that. I'm elected to do my job, but I don't spend a lot of time at the Lege. I follow legislation, and if I have concerns, I bring it up with our lobbyists with the Texas Association of Counties, and I bring it before the county [commissioners]."
*Oops! The following correction ran in our August 31, 2007 issue: In last week's article "Maxey Shows Moxie in Curious Bid for Tax Assessor," the Texas School for the Deaf was incorrectly listed as a collaborator in revamping the Travis County tax assessor-collector website; actually, it was the Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired.