Albany County Assessor resigning
Grant Showacre announced his Oct. 31 departure early, but appears to have effectively — if not officially — already left the position. Democratic landowners are invited to apply for the vacancy.
The third major county-wide elected official to step down in less than a calendar year, Grant Showacre is resigning from his role as county assessor.
Showacre has served as Albany County Assessor for nearly four terms, having first been elected in 2006. His departure kicks off an appointment process for his successor — one that involves both his home party, the Albany County Democrats, and county leadership.
“This is the third time we’re going through this process in the span of a year,” said Carrie Murthy, chair of the Albany County Democrats. “No one would have predicted it. To go through it once is somewhat unusual. We elect people and they tend to plan to see their terms through. And it just so happens, in three unique situations, that an opportunity came up or something happened in their personal lives that made it make sense for them to step away from their positions.”
Showacre could not be reached for comment, nor did he make an appearance at this week’s County Commission meeting, during which the commissioners accepted his letter of resignation.
“I am retiring as of the 31st of the month,” Showacre writes in the brief letter to commissioners. “It has been a long and wonderful career.”
Murthy said Showacre had accepted a new job in New Hampshire, and that he had been planning to retire at the end of his fourth term, but took the new opportunity when it came up earlier than expected.
The year of resignations
Former Albany County Sheriff Dave O’Malley announced his retirement last October, ending a long career in local law enforcement. O’Malley had been routinely criticized for defending the actions and career of then-Deputy Derek Colling, who killed an unarmed man in 2018.
And just months after O’Malley resigned, County Prosecuting Attorney Peggy Trent announced her own resignation. Trent had also been criticized for her handling of the Colling case, but denied that her early departure had anything to do with that case.
Albany County has seven partisan county-wide elected offices. In addition to sheriff, attorney and assessor, they include coroner, county clerk, treasurer and clerk of district court. Six of these — all but the clerk of district court — are elected during midterm years. So in 2022, all six will be on the ballot.
O’Malley’s resignation kicked off a legal battle between the Democratic Party and the commission, which was then controlled by Republicans. The party and the commission had differing interpretations of the state statutes that direct the replacement process.
When the commission — the county’s top governing body — receives notice of a vacancy in an elected office, they notify the political party to which the outgoing official belongs. Then the clock starts ticking for that political party. In the case of O’Malley, Trent and now Showacre, that party was the Albany County Democrats.
The party has 15 days from the notice of vacancy to identify three candidates for the position, from which the commission chooses and installs the replacement.
But what does “notice of a vacancy” mean?
The commission and Democratic Party could not agree on that last year — and the distinction matters. The commission argued that the notice occurs when the resignation is announced, but the party argued that there is no vacancy until the official actually leaves.
O’Malley, for example, originally said in October that he would be leaving at the end of 2020. If the commission’s interpretation is correct, that means the Democrats had to kick off and complete their replacement process within about two weeks of O’Malley’s announcement. If the party’s interpretation is correct, the Democrats would have months to narrow down a pool of replacement candidates.
Murthy was not a fan of that short timeframe, especially coming as it did during the final and most hectic weeks of the 2020 General Election.
“I think it was most difficult last year when we were engaging in the 2020 election activities leading up to November — that was difficult timing for sure,” she said. “We wanted to do right by our community in both working toward the 2020 election, making sure the right people got elected, but also give attention to the really important task of screening candidates for sheriff.”
O’Malley stepped up his actual leave date, rendering the issue moot and causing the legal case to be dropped.
Trent’s resignation came the day she announced it, so there was no delay between announcement and vacancy.
Showacre’s departure is different. He announced his plans to leave earlier this month, giving Halloween as his official last day.
The Albany County Commission — now controlled by Democrats — received Showacre’s resignation letter Tuesday, but they will likely not recognize the vacancy until Nov. 2. That would give the Democrats until mid-November to find their three replacement finalists.
The Democratic Party is grateful for the longer timeframe, Murthy said, and has already opened applications.
But is Showacre actually still serving as the county assessor?
Missing in action?
Showacre was not present at the commission meeting Tuesday, and he could not be reached for comment this week. Showacre has been non-responsive to reporter inquiries in the past, but this week, multiple emails to his official county email went unreturned, and calls to the assessor’s office have been fielded by his second-in-command.
Showacre’s earlier-than-announced departure will not change anything about the process, unless courts order it, said County Commission Chair Pete Gosar.
“It’s not very well understood that we are a peer of every elected official,” he said. “So, there’s not much we can do.”
For the time being, the responsibilities of the county assessor fall to Deputy County Assessor Chelsie Mathews, who confirmed that Showacre is already gone.
“As deputy, with that title, comes the responsibility of stepping in when he is absent,” she said. “But I am not officially assessor.”
Mathews said she will “most definitely” put her name in the ring to be the next assessor. And she certainly has Showacre’s endorsement. Most of his letter of resignation is devoted to offering that endorsement.
“She has been my Deputy (for more) than a decade,” the letter reads. “Not (choosing) her over any one else would be a mistake. She is smart. She understands the job much better than anyone else I know. To not choose her would be a mistake.”
No matter when Showacre’s vacancy really began, the replacement process will likely proceed using the official resignation date of Oct. 31.
“We know there will be a vacancy then,” Gosar said.
Once the commission acknowledges the assessor vacancy (probably Nov. 2 at the commission’s first meeting after Halloween), they will notify the Albany County Democratic Party.
The party is now accepting applications for the position. If more than six candidates apply, the Democrats could convene a screening committee to narrow the field. But one way or another, the Democrats’ central committee will identify the three finalists and present them to the commission before the 15-day window closes.
At some point in this process, Murthy said there could be a public forum — as there was for the sheriff and attorney positions.
“We think it’s important for the community to get to participate and be involved in this process to the extent that they can,” Murthy said. “The way the law is written, it doesn’t allow for that at all, so we’re building it into our process so that at least, the semi-finalists can introduce themselves to the community, share their vision for the office and then members of the public can contact the central committee with any feedback in terms of preferences or things they think are important for the next county assessor.”
Candidates must be registered Democrats and own real property in the county. The landowner requirement has caught many off-guard. Famously a requirement for suffrage during the early years of the United States, it’s no longer a requirement attached to many elected offices.
In Albany County, a community where half the population rents their home, the landowning requirement means that more than half the population is ineligible for consideration.
Regardless, as it is written in state statute, the Democrats must abide and find candidates who own real estate in Albany County.
“My initial reaction to that was ‘how elitist! That’s not right!’” Murthy said. “But one could also argue that their job is to evaluate property in the county for property tax purposes. But it’s just for county assessor, it’s not for other county positions.”
Mainly, the Democrats are looking for a candidate who will responsibly perform the duties of the office.
“We’re looking for someone who will be able to do this work — again, the job is to evaluate all the property in the county for property tax purposes fairly and equitably,” Murthy said. “So we’re going to look for folks who have experience that suggests they would be able to fill that role.”