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Prang answers the tough questions about assessor run
By Ryan Gierach, West Hollywood, California
West Hollywood council member Jeffrey Prang, perhaps the ultimate public servant and Democratic Party apparatchik, faces some tough questions about his run for Los Angeles County Assessor, not the least of which is self-professed friendship with the man he would replace.
WeHo council member Jeffrey Prang.
The current assessor, John Noguez, is at the center of a pay for play scandal set off by disclosures that a top manager in his office, Scott Schenter, 49, allegedly reduced property values by about $172 million to lower tax bills for owners of multimillion-dollar homes, condominiums and businesses in exchange for political contributions to Noguez during his campaign for the office.
LA County Assessor John Noguez and Mr. Prang have been “acquainted” for nearly 20 years, said the council member, but more “political friends. John was friends with everybody. He is a great retail politician,” said Mr. Prang.
In the 1990s Mr. Prang worked as a special assistant to then-Assessor Kenneth Hahn and met Mr. Noguez then, “although we didn’t really become acquainted until about 10 years ago when he won election to the Huntington Park city council, and as an openly gay elected official and LA president of the League of Cities – at the same time I was president of the California Contract Cities Association – and John was a very popular, well-known and respected politician.”
So after departing his last position as an assistant city manager for the city of Pico Rivera and seeking work in the public sphere for nine months, he approached Mr. Noguez for work when the charges against him were innuendo and speculation.
He portrayed the scandal at that point as one emanating from a single news source in south LA County written by a man who ran Mr. Noguez’s opponent (John Wong)’s campaign, “and it seemed to me the kind of attack politicians come in for from time to time. More speculation than anything.”
He said the last thing he would have done is seek employment if he thought there was a criminal investigation on the horizon.
LA Assessor John Noguez.
“I told him because I am a respected public official with a reputation for integrity I thought I could be useful in bringing stability to the department and put some reforms in to address some of the issues.
He then recalled that Mr. Noguez would leave the country for nearly a month to attend his father’s funeral, “and it became clear to me that this was a big issue and John should extricate himself from it. Even though he deserves his day in court, the charges against him are so severe and so extensive that he really should have resigned.”
But Mr. Noguez refused to resign.
That was when “I told him that his position was untenable,” said Mr. Prang, “and suggested a way to get him out of the office and prevent him from being a distraction.”
Steve Afriat will run Mr. Prang's countywide campaign. Photo by Joel Mark.
The negotiations between County Board of Supervisors president Zev Yaroslavsky, Mr. Noguez and Mr. Prang brought about an agreement to appoint a deputy assessor to that vacant post and allow Mr. Noguez to take a leave of absence from his position.
If he is unable or unwilling to take an “active role” in running the department, he can be replaced, so nowadays Mr. Noguez accepts and files reports from his office to maintain an active role, but has not and will not, according to his lawyers, go back into the office for any reason.
The board nominated Santos H. Kreimann, who ran the office since Mr. Noguez’s leave of absence in June 2012. Upon his acceptance of the post, he kept Mr. Prang as a member of the executive staff and as a member of his reform administration.
Since last July, Mr. Prang has coordinated the department’s strategic planning process and serves as a key member of the department’s public affairs team, responsible for legislative analysis, communications, intergovernmental relations, community relations, and policy analysis.
“I really wanted to stay there to help clean up the mess that John left; I’d like to bring a level of transparency and accessibility to the office that I have tried to practice here in West Hollywood as a council member.”
He said he was proud of the progress made under Mr. Kreimann’s leadership. “All the issues that led to the ‘pay-to-play’ have been addressed making it nearly impossible for it to happen again,” he said.
He said he was also heading up a digitization of the Assessor’s records. “Right now all the county records are in paper files. There are millions, maybe billions, of pieces of paper that need to be scanned. We’re the largest assessor’s department in the country, and there is no ‘off-the-shelf’ application for us to use,” complicating matters.
A "political friend," John Noguez gave Jeffrey Prang his oath of office when Mr. Prang became Mayor Pro Tempore in 2011. Photo by WeHo News. All rights reserved.
Mr. Kreimann was recently promoted to an executive position in the county’s chief executive office, and the Board nominated and Mr. Noguez appointed assistant Sharon Moller to take over as chief deputy assistant of the office. In February, Mr. Kreimann wrote a letter lauding Mr. Prang’s work during the time of transition. Ms. Moller also kept Mr. Prang on in his position.
To the expected charges from his detractors and critics that he is a party tool leveraging his political connections to gain sinecures by using campaign consultants such as Steve Afriat (who suffered attacks from a local news source during the recent city election) to get into office, Mr. Prang suggested the accusers take a closer look.
“What some people would call co-opted by the establishment I would call a public service professional. I am a professional public servant. My reputation is beyond question. I consider myself to be a government professional.”
His list of endorsements shows how well respected he is, he says. The list includes California State Controller John Chiang, California Speaker of the State Assembly John Pérez, LA County Sheriff Lee Baca, retired LA County assessors Rick Auerbach and Kenneth Hahn and LA City Attorney Mike Feuer.