A Bureaucratic Nightmare

By Erica Olsen

The numerous different departments, divisions, commissions and boards in the State of Nevada are enough to make a citizen’s head spin. The Commission on Ethics. The Division of Assessment Standards. The Nevada Equal Rights Commission. The Department of Justice. The Board of Equalization. They all sound the same, don’t they? Well think again. Depending on the situation, each office has a different jurisdiction. It’s up to each citizen to figure out how to negotiate his/her way through the halls and offices of Carson City bureaucrats.

Many Nevadans who feel they have legitimate problems regarding matters of government, do bounce their way from office to office. Some succeed while others, like Ken Polman, are not so fortunate.

Mr. Polman, property owner and resident of Silver Peak, Nev., disagreed with a county assessor’s assessment of his land. After further investigation he realized the county assessor, Elizabeth Knight, not only had increased his property tax by 238 percent, but had also thrown away all previous assessments of his land, prohibiting past comparisons. Moreover, Knight had not visited Polman’s property since 1984; she simply estimated the size of the two structures on his property. According to Nevada law, an assessor is to visit assessed properties every seven years. Instead Assessor Knight used property sales in Lamoille Canyon, one of the scenic wonders of the Great Basin, to calculate the value of Polman’s property, which is located near a town of 500 between Hawthorne and Tonapah.

"She is incompetent," he said, referring to the blatant inaccuracies and mistakes in her assessment of Polman’s land.

An elected official holds a position of public trust which "shall be held for the sole benefit of the people," according to Nevada law. Polman did not think Knight was fulfilling her duty as a public official and called her to explain her actions to the County Board of Equalization. As a member of the County Board of Equalization, he stepped down from his position and petitioned the Board for a review of the assessed valuation of his property. But the Board found only minor problems with Knight’s assessment and actions. Believing the ruling was not based on facts but on personal friendships between Knight and members of the Board, Polman took his case to the Attorney General’s Office.

That was two years ago. His journey through the byways and tunnels of Carson City tells the rest of the story.

Polman sent the minutes from both County Board of Equalization meetings, which contain recorded accounts of assessor Knight’s incompetence according to Polman, to the Attorney General. His case was forwarded to the Deputy Attorney General, who promptly

lost the minutes. Polman again mailed the minutes to the Deputy AG and to the Chief of the Division of Assessment Standards in the Department of Taxation.

Letters between Polman and the Division of Assessment Standards flew back and forth over a period of several months. End result: The Division decided it had no jurisdiction over the case because it could not investigate issues of malfeasance or separately appraise Polman’s property as he requested.

Meanwhile, six months after first contacting the AG’s office, the Deputy AG finally made a move. The Deputy passed the case off to the Commission on Ethics. The Commission told Polman a private hearing would be held to see if it had jurisdiction over the case.

Knowing full well that the Commission did not have jurisdiction over a criminal matter, Polman was furious.

"It’s just a stall," he said. "I guess they figured if they just delayed me long enough, I would quit."

Two months later the Commission issued a letter stating that there was no evidence presented to prove that the Nevada Code of Ethics had been violated. In other words, it has no jurisdiction. So back to the Deputy AG’s office the case must go.

Eleven letters and two years later, Polman still has not been successful in getting an adequate response from any of the government offices.

"This is bordering on ridiculous," he said. "Besides, I think the AG office knows assessor Knight is in the hot seat. My intention is to get her thrown out of office."

With pages and pages of documentation showing how the case has been bounced around, Polman feels the government is unresponsive and self-serving.

"The system is protecting itself by protecting its own people," Polman says. "The longer bureaucrats are in office, the more dedicated they become to the system."

On October 21, Polman wrote a final letter to the Deputy AG demanding a written statement that the AG either does not find a case in Polman’s complaint or will proceed with prosecution measures.

"All we can do is fight on our own and win our little battles, while the system goes on forever," he says, "and when you fight the government, you end up paying for both sides of the fight."u

Erica Olsen is a research analyst for NPRI and the managing editor of Online Nevada.

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