KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -- KCTV5 News has reviewed thousands of emails between top decision makers in the current Jackson County assessment.
KCTV5 made the open records request on June 30. Obtaining the emails required help from KCTV5’s lawyers.
A flash drive handed over to our investigation team showed information was completely gathered by Aug. 20. However, that flash drive was not handed over to KCTV5 until Sept. 4, the day after homeowners could appeal faulty assessments. The deadline expired Sept. 3.
What’s in the emails?
KCTV5 reviewed emails describing an office that is overwhelmed and at times confused.
Emails clearly outline some troubling conversations where the consultant and director are trying to figure out how values were reached in the first place.
The following email discussion took place in July when notices were already sent out.
Consultant John Q. Ebert writes, “what transpired to the values on their way to 2019 Ascend to have ended up to a 2019 total value of 594,453?”
The discussion revolves around the house that sparked a class action lawsuit.
The home’s value more than doubled. County records show it jumped from $266,910 to $594,453.
The email conversation never ends in a written answer. Eventually the consultant writes, “the Assessment Department and the County are terribly exposed for residential values mailed out that cannot be explained as to how calculated. Worse yet, with high increase that cannot be explained as to how calculated.”
A separate email shows a decision was made to lower the value while people at the top are still trying to figure out how the new inflated value. It’s dropped to $290,000.
Emails from Jackson County Assessment Director Gail McCann Beatty to a fellow employee state: “This is the new value for Manheim. Not sure how John Ebert got to the $290,000 value.”
These emails show at times the county had trouble understanding the reasoning behind the dramatically inflated values and there appears to be a lack of understanding about how a new, reduced value was reached as well.
It’s unclear if the director and out-of-state consultant ever resolved the serious questions about the formula used to calculate all residential properties.
McCann Beatty declined to be interviewed.
The consultant only agreed to speak with KCTV5's Angie Ricono once he learned KCTV5 obtained emails.
John Q. Ebert’s comments will be the focus of a separate report later this week on KCTV5 News at 10 p.m.
When Ebert was directly asked if he trusted all of the valuations sent out to homeowners, he simply responded, “no.” He declined to speak on record when asked the simple question, “how did you come up with the numbers?”
Ebert summed up the 2019 assessment as, “just good people trying to do too much in too short of a time.”
Sliding deadlines, preparing for problems
The assessment department has projected confidence in this assessment that sky-high new values are correct and simply reflects that taxpayers haven’t been paying their fair share for years.
However, emails reveal there may be more to the story.
In March, McCann Beatty sent an email about needing a “phone bank,” a “temp service” and predicting the “large number of informal reviews we anticipate.”
She also sends an email about employees raising serious red flags, “there’s no way we can get everything completed prior to notifications going out.”
In April, the consultant and McCann Beatty discuss, “a potentially BIG problem ... those 'out-of-whack' land values.”
The deadlines were extended. Emails show the assessment department was fixing errors up until the last minute and even after notices went out.
Shocking new land values grabbed the attention of KCTV5’s investigative unit, and the county took notice of homeowners pointing out new land values.
“This is a problem,” McCain Beatty warns top leaders. She then went on to note information was sent to “Channel 5 as well. FYI- We are reviewing the vacant land values.”
An email from the consultant to county leaders warns them, “you cannot and will not be able to publish for the 2019 Reassessment notices, a fully accurate and uniform set of property valuations…it will take at least two years and probably four years to get things right.”
In other email, Ebert suggests starting over because things are so bad with a “county wide commercial/industrial actual reappraisal.”
Ebert later clarified to KCTV5 that he feels all residential and commercial properties need a good physical look -- beyond pictures -- because the data and information behind the assessment is out of date. He acknowledged many of his suggestions could have led to better and more accurate values were simply not possible due to staffing issues that plague the assessment office.
County leaders won’t talk
KCTV5 requested interviews with the McCann Beatty and County Executive Frank White. We received the following response:
“At this time, the County is focused on working with taxpayers and therefore, is not granting any interviews regarding this matter.”
We asked the Public Information Officer Marshanna Hester to explain why she kept completed public records in her possession for weeks once it was completed. She sent this response:
“I was notified on Wednesday, Aug. 21 that the documents were ready. I picked them up the next day Thursday, Aug. 22 and began to review them so that I can be aware of the information that was being released. I notified you on Monday, Aug. 26 the documents would be ready the following week. During this time, I consulted with the Counselor’s Office regarding questions I had and continued to review as many of the records as possible until Sept. 4.”
We also reached out to the three permanent members of the Board of Equalization offering to show them the emails KCTV5 obtained. There has been no response.
Members of the Board of Equalization are currently hearing appeals from homeowners who are shocked at their new values.
The Board of Equalization has the power to fix faulty assessments. They heard, but never voted on, a proposal to cap assessment rates.
Reaction to emails
Legislative Chair Theresa Galvin sat down with KCTV5 and reviewed the emails.
“I’m angry. I’m angry for taxpayers. It looks like there was a fire in the background and everyone is trying to put it out,” said Galvin. “It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. The entire process seems confusing. The right hand didn’t know what the left hand. Was doing. The process seems a mess. I’d really like to see their response.”
Galvin says members of the county legislature are extremely concerned about this assessment, but unfortunately do not have the power to change things for 2019.
Galvin has introduced legislation to require in person physical inspections if properties increase more than 15% in future assessments.
We also shared the emails with homeowners across the county who saw their assessments skyrocket.
“It’s been a cluster. They knew it was wrong. We know it’s wrong. And now they’ve got to admit to it,” said Jerry Rosenburrough.
Charlie Lona lives in the Westside and has been encouraging people to appeal their assessments, calling them faulty and nothing short of a land grab.
“Terminated! It’s needs to be terminated now. And these people need to resign. They have been lying to us,” said Lona.
KCTV5’s vetting process
KCTV5 investigators read each email turned over by Jackson County.
Additionally, we reviewed emails from the city and the Missouri State Tax Commission. We also shared the emails with data experts and two former directors of assessment.