MARC CHASE: Rare political bird Adams leaves worthy legacy

2013-10-08T00:00:00Z MARC CHASE: Rare political bird Adams leaves worthy legacyMarc Chase marc.chase@nwi.com, (219) 662-5330 nwitimes.com
October 08, 2013 12:00 am  • 

In November 2010, a member of the rarest of an endangered species in Lake County showed a glimmer of hope for the rest of the ultra-thin herd. A member of the Republicanis genus Conservitorus actually found an unlikely foothold in Lake County politics.

The corruption and scandal so often present in the county's Democratic Party -- combined with true credentials for financial savvy -- propelled St. John fiscal conservative Hank Adams to victory in the race for Lake County assessor. Sadly, following recent struggles with cancer, Adams stepped down from his post before the expiration of his term and then died Sunday.

But Adams, the first Republican to hold countywide office since God knows when, leaves behind a legacy that reform-minded politicians -- the truly rare birds in Lake County -- can and should build upon. His performance over three years even had liberal Democrats in Lake County admitting Adams performed admirably in a position that had been filled with tax-bill debacles in years past.

One of the key functions of the county assessor's office is getting property tax bills out to county residents, on time and accurately.

Anyone who has owned property in Lake County within the past decade or more is familiar with the poor track record of previous assessors in this endeavor.

Previous delays in tax assessments prompted late property tax bills. This tardiness caused long Government Center lines of taxpayers after Christmas in 2007 and 2008 -- people seeking to avoid delinquent payments. The tardiness also forced the county to borrow more money to cover operations while the whole mess sorted itself out.

When Adams took over, the bills started going out on time, and the lines stopped.

Early in his tenure as county assessor, another thing became refreshingly apparent about his administration. By April 2011, the typical backlog of appeals -- by taxpayers questioning the voracity of their bills and assessments -- had been cut by 25 percent, thanks to Adams' leadership.

While reducing assessment appeals, the gentleman from St. John had the right kind of appeal across the political aisle.

Longtime Lake County Democrat and county Commissioner Gerry Scheub backed Republican Adams for the assessor's seat. Granted, Scheub comes from a more conservative base -- Democrat or not -- in south Lake County. But this was still noteworthy.

So was the way in which Adams administered his office. The typical formula for a new officeholder -- particularly one who succeeds in winning a seat long held by an opposing party -- is to purge employees and inject personal allies into those positions.

Adams didn't do that. He kept the same staff and just demanded more of them. It was a most honorable gesture in what can often be an ugly political landscape.

Now it's time to honor Adams' legacy.

Both parties should build off his reforms, for the sake of taxpayers and not political gamesmanship. If that happens, it could be Adams' greatest legacy.

Investigative Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 662-5330 or marc.chase@nwi.com. The opinions are the writer's.

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